Big first period; big, big victory
Another bad start, another poor first period, and the Blackhawks might have been finished.
Instead, coming off back-to-back playoff losses for the first time since last season and in jeopardy of going down to Philadelphia three games to two in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals, they played undoubtedly their best opening 20 minutes of the playoffs Sunday night - and on home ice, no less.
So good was the team wearing the red sweaters that many of its fans spent nearly as much time standing as they did sitting in their expensive United Center seats.
From almost the drop of the puck until the horn sounded on the first period, the Blackhawks dominated, outshooting Philadelphia 13-7, outworking the Flyers and, most important for them, outscoring the visitors 3-0.
Kris Versteeg called it "by far" the Blackhawks' best first period of the playoffs.
"We were rolling, we were having fun and we were playing the way we wanted to," Versteeg said after his goal and 2 assists helped the Blackhawks win 7-4. "We just have to keep creating the positives and bring them into the next game (Game 6 Wednesday night at Philadelphia)."
The Blackhawks hadn't scored as many goals in a period since their opening-round, Game-6 clincher against Nashville, when they led 4-3 after one.
When the Blackhawks skated off the ice at period's end, the vast majority of the 22,305 in attendance gave them a standing ovation.
Mind you, the Blackhawks had been notorious slow starters in their first 20 playoff games. They had been outscored 22-17 in the first period of games, including 11-5 on United Center ice.
"They were way better than us in the first period," Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said.
Versteeg had said before Game 5 that the Blackhawks "deserve a bounce," and that he and his teammates were "going to work hard and earn it."
For sure, Versteeg.
The Blackhawks drew a cross-checking penalty from Flyers defenseman Lukas Krajicek less than three minutes into the game and never relented. They eventually solved Flyers goalie Michael Leighton when, with the Flyers' Scott Hartnell in the penalty box for high-sticking, Brent Seabrook slipped in a shot off a pass from behind the net from Versteeg. The puck glanced off the skate of defenseman Chris Pronger and beat Leighton to the stick side with 7:43 left.
Then, on a delayed penalty to Philadelphia's Matt Carle, Brent Sopel flipped the puck toward the net. From behind the net, Dave Bolland banked the puck off Leighton's right skate and into the goal with 4:34 to go.
Versteeg completed a dazzling period with a dazzling play. The winger skated with the puck from his own blue line into the offensive zone on the left wing, skated between the circles and snapped a wrist shot stick side past Leighton with 1:45 remaining.
Leighton's night was complete after the period, replaced by Brian Boucher to start the second.
"That first 20, we were flying," said Bolland, who centered for Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien. The line was a combined plus-9 with 9 points. "We were getting in the (offensive) zone, we were having a good time, and we were doing everything right to take it to them. That's the way we got to play."
The Flyers never got closer than 2 goals the rest of the night.
"We knew that we weren't playing our game (in Games 3 and 4)," Bolland said. "We weren't playing our Blackhawks style of game. That's getting that puck in and playing great on defense. We didn't do that when we were in their place."