PHILADELPHIA - With Friday's victory in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Philadelphia Flyers made the most difficult of tasks a shocking reality.
As usual, they did it in the most dramatic of ways.
Philadelphia took a 5-3 victory from the Chicago Blackhawks Friday that, combined with Wednesday's overtime win, sends this best-of-7 series back to Chicago tied at two games apiece.
After losing two one-goal games to heavily-favored Chicago at the United Center, few thought Philadelphia had the goods to hang with the favored Hawks, who had the NHL's third-best regular-season points total.
But the Flyers believed, and that is all that mattered as they once again proved their doubters wrong in spectacular fashion.
"I said when we left (Chicago), I thought we could have won both games," coach Peter Laviolette said. "I like our game. I like what we're doing.
"It's going back and forth quick both ways. Guys are really competing out there. But nothing changed for us. Our game hasn't changed. Just the score changed."
Friday, the score was 5-3 as Philadelphia saw a three-goal, third period lead almost evaporate. Chicago scored on a two-man advantage midway through the third period and then received a goal from Brian Campbell with 4:10 remaining that turned a Wachovia Center house party -- attended by a record crowd of 20,304 -- into a virtual morgue for the final four-plus minutes of game action.
"Yeah, it was obviously tough to be up three goals and you're kind of relaxed a little bit, and all of a sudden, boom, boom, it's only one goal," said Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton, who played his best game of the series in making 31 saves. "I was trying not to think about it too much."
While the goalie concentrated on making the stops he needed to make, the rest of the players couldn't help but focus on the predicament in which they ensnared themselves.
"Yeah, I think we laid back a little bit more and we didn't forecheck the way we did at the first two periods," forward Claude Giroux said. "I think we have to learn from that, and obviously, that's not the kind of third period we wanted. But at the end of the day, we got the win."
After the first 20 minutes the outcome seemed preordained, as the Flyers jumped out to a 3-1 lead. In fact, for the first 50 minutes of the game Philadelphia was superior in virtually every aspect of the game.
Captain Mike Richards scored a power-play goal just 4:35 into the contest, stripping defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson of the puck and firing a quick backhand that surprised Chicago goalie Antti Niemi.
Defenseman Matt Carle scored Philadelphia's second goal on its next shot, which came 10:13 seconds after the shot on which Richards scored.
Then, just 51 seconds after Patrick Sharp had given Chicago life with a long-range slapper from the point in the period's waning minutes, an unmarked Claude Giroux slammed home a shot by Kimmo Timonen that struck the end boards and skittered back into the slot.
"I thought we were very generous in the first period on what we gave them as far as goals went," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Ville Leino made it 4-1 for the Flyers at the 6:43 mark of the third period with a goal that banked off the back of Chicago's Kris Versteeg and over the shoulder of Niemi, who settled down to finish with 27 saves after allowing three goals on Philadelphia's first nine shots.
"(Versteeg) was standing right there, in front of the net, so I figured maybe I can't shoot straight in. I tried to hit him on the back, and it went in," Leino said, his smile betraying the tongue-in-cheek remark he was trying to make.
"I missed the shot a little bit there, hit him on the back and it was a lucky goal."
It may have been lucky, but Leino's game-winning goal also broke a pair of franchise postseason records. The score was Leino's seventh goal and 16th point of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, moving him past Mel Bridgman (6 goals in 1976) and Brian Propp (5-10--15 in 1980) in those respective categories. His 16 points are the most by a rookie in one postseason since Jeremy Roenick tallied 18 points for Chicago in 1990.
The Flyers seemed to take their foot off the gas for the first time in this series after Leino's goal, and they played a very steep price as Chicago rallied to within one goal and pressed aggressively for the equalizer until Jeff Carter scored an empty-net goal with 25 seconds left in the game.
Now, the Stanley Cup Final becomes a best-of-3 series starting with Game 5 Sunday night at the United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).
Philadelphia returns to the Windy City on the wings of the momentum garnered during a 48-hour run of great hockey at the Wachovia Center, knowing that it must now win a game at the United Center in order to win a most unexpected title.
For Chicago, the Blackhawks know that they have to find a way back from being swept in these two games in Philadelphia. They know they can never be as lax as they were in the first period of Friday's game. Simply, they accept that they must be better in every facet of the game if they hope to claim the title that was bestowed upon them by virtually everyone -- except the Flyers -- after winning the first two games of the series.
"They've got a great team," Chicago's Marian Hossa said. "We knew it was not going to be easy. We have to play smart hockey. In the first period, I think we were running around in our zone too much. We just have to be much smarter."
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James van Riemsdyk
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