In a series that has felt like a swap meet with the way the Flyers and Blackhawks have traded goals, Philadelphia found itself with some extra room to work with in the third period of Game 4.
Then Chicago roared back, reminding the Flyers and their nervous fans how tight and fast-paced these Stanley Cup finals have been.
Mike Richards, Matt Carle and Claude Giroux all scored first-period goals and Philadelphia withstood a late surge by Chicago to beat the Blackhawks 5-3 on Friday night. With two straight home victories by a total of three goals, goalie Michael Leighton and the Flyers have bounced back to tie the series at 2.
Game 5 is Sunday night in Chicago and there’s no reason to think it won’t be just as intense as the first four.
"We were able to stay calm, but it’s a hard way to win it in the end," Flyers forward Simon Gagne said.
Jeff Carter scored an empty-netter in the final seconds to help the Flyers become the first team this series to win a game by more than one goal. The Flyers, who became the third team in NHL history to win a series after trailing 3-0 in the second round of these playoffs, are now trying to become the third team to win a Stanley Cup after losing the first two on the road.
Chasing their first title since 1975, the Flyers nearly blew a 4-1 lead late in the third.
Chicago’s Dave Bolland and Brian Campbell scored to slice the deficit to one with 4:10 left. The Blackhawks attacked and outplayed the Flyers in the third, leaving them hopeful they can carry that back home.
The home team has won all four games this series. Game 6 will be back in Philadelphia.
Home ice might not matter much if Chicago stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane can’t get untracked and return to form. Kane had one assist as Chicago’s top line continued to flounder.
"We did a lot of good things out there but it doesn’t mean nothing if you don’t score and we know that," Toews said. "We knew that it was going to be a long series and not everything is going to go your way."
Ville Leino also scored for the Flyers, who have not lost beyond Game 3 in any round this postseason.
Chicago nearly snapped that skid – it just ran out of time.
After the Blackhawks won a key faceoff, Bolland sent one past Leighton for Chicago’s first power-play goal of the game. They entered 0 for 6 and went 1 for 3 in Game 4.
The goal energized the Blackhawks. They didn’t look beat down from having to rally and fight the Flyers for most of the first 40 minutes.
Campbell made it 4-3 when his shot appeared to deflect off Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen’s stick, and silenced the Flyers crowd. His first goal of the series was upheld after a brief review, but that was as close as Chicago would get.
Chicago pulled Antti Niemi for the man-advantage but Carter slid in the empty-netter and the tense crowd exhaled and celebrated.
Now it’s off to Chicago.
Philadelphia hadn’t held a two-goal lead in the final all series until the first period
Richards, the Flyers captain, had been as quiet on the ice in the final as he can be with the press.
His first goal of the final was a memorable one. Richards chased Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson from behind the net and struck with a quick steal. His backhanded flip toward the net stunned Niemi for his seventh goal of the playoffs and a 1-0 lead only 4:35 into the game.
"He hung on to the puck a little bit too long," Richards said. "I just grabbed it from him and threw it at the net and it went in."
Carle scored his first goal of the postseason, burying a rebound from inside the right circle.
Flyers fans started their derisive "An-tti! An-tti!" chants toward the beleaguered goalie.
Yes, a pair of big market teams are a huge reason why this series has done record ratings for the NHL. But this series has looked like Olympic speedskating with sticks. The early dynamic pace left fans needing to catch their breath.
Case in point, the 51-second gap between goals late in the first.
Patrick Sharp had his goal deflected by Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn to make it 2-1.
Giroux, who scored the Game 3 overtime winner, swung the momentum back toward Philly when he scored with 36.3 seconds left.
"When the team plays well your confidence goes up. The whole team is playing well right now," he said. "Any time the team’s playing well, your chances of playing well are a lot higher."
Leighton knows the feeling.
He has been steady for the Flyers since he was yanked in Game 1. He stopped 26 of the first 27 shots he faced and finished with 31 saves.
Niemi had 26 saves, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a rugged first period.
"It’s still 2-2. It sounds like the series is over," Hjalmarsson said. "It’s still 2-2, we still have home advantage, we’re still in a great spot. We’re just looking forward to the next game."