Much more in line with expectations than the series opener, Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final featured a low-scoring, physical battle with the Chicago Blackhawks emerging with a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Monday night at the United Center.
One parallel remained as once again the game-winning goal flew off an unexpected stick blade, this time that of the Hawks' Ben Eager, who snapped a wrist shot from the right wing past Michael Leighton with 2:23 left in the second period.
Eager's goal was the second strike in a 28-second flurry started by Marian Hossa just moments before that staked Chicago to a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Dustin Byfuglien intercepted Arron Asham's pass at center ice and fed Eager, who looked more sniper than pugilist on this rush at least, using Matt Carle as a screen and wristing the puck by Leighton's glove.
One of the game's three stars, for certain, was Marian Hossa, he of the supposed Stanley Cup curse. For the second straight game, Hossa was a force, adding a gritty rebound goal to the two assists he earned in Game 1. On his goal Hossa was able to beat Lukas Krajicek to a loose puck near Leighton's crease and punch it by the Flyers goalie for a 1-0 lead.
At the other end of the rink, Antti Niemi turned in quite a performance with 32 saves, beaten only by Simon Gagne on a shot that was tipped and bounced on its way toward the net.
Some of the most dangerous chances directed toward Niemi came from Flyers' captain Mike Richards, who the Finnish goalie denied on a pair of break-ins in the second period. Niemi was especially strong with the Flyers warming to the task in the game's second half and outshooting Chicago 30-17 over the last two periods. He made a handful of saves in the game's closing minutes to preserve the victory.
With The Fratellis blasting through the P.A. and frenzied Hawks fans showering the ice with red and black paraphernalia, the Blackhawks saluted the crowd after taking a two-games-to-none series lead. Historically, when the home team has taken the first two games of the Final, they have gone on to win the Stanley Cup 32 times in 34 tries.
The Flyers are left to wonder what went wrong in Game 2.
When Hossa and Eager connected for a pair of goals in the second period, the Flyers seemed to be playing the exactly the kind of game they wanted. They had silenced the crowd by containing the Hawks' top threats. They took over in the shot department after a flat first period in the offensive end. To that point in the game the changes they had made -- inserting Dan Carcillo and Oskars Bartulis into the line-up -- weren't hurting them. In fact, Carcillo was more than just his usual irritating self. He was one of the Flyers best offensive threats to that point.
But, they couldn't solve Niemi in time and now time is no longer on their side.
Expectations coming into the series had the Blackhawks as the clear favorites. Unless the Flyers have a tremendous effort in store Wednesday night in Philadelphia for Game 3, those expectations are going to be met, too.
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