Circle March 13 on your calendar. If the Blackhawks lose a game six or seven in San Jose that keeps them from playing for the Stanley Cup, Saturday’s loss to the Flyers will likely be the cause for that elimination game being played somewhere other than the United Center.
Cristobal Huet played an exceptional game for 57 minutes on Saturday, keeping almost everything the Flyers could throw at him out of the net and matching an incredible effort from his counterpart, former Hawks prospect Michael Leighton. Despite a number of bad turnovers by the skaters in front of him, Huet kept the Hawks in the game for most of the afternoon.
But with 2:04 left, Scott Hartnell beat Brent Sopel to the net and put a shot past Huet to tie the game. Huet was frustrated, and wasn’t getting any help.
Perhaps the worst few moments of the Hawks season came as the clock was expiring on regulation. With five seconds left in the game, for no good reason at all, the Blackhawks went for a line change. A line change… with five seconds left in a tie game… on the road.
Brent Seabrook, who’s terrible turnover led to Philadelphia’s first goal, was left hanging as the Flyers rushed up ice and a strong cross-ice pass to Chris Pronger sealed the deal for the Flyers. Despite being outshot 41-34, the Flyers stole two points from the Blackhawks with 2.1 seconds on the clock.
This loss will test the mettle of the youngest team in the league, as they now have to fly home and host the best team in hockey, the Washington Capitals, 20 hours after suffering a heart-breaking defeat. Huet will take a lot of the blame for the loss on Saturday, but he should share the burden with the defensemen in front of him. Sopel and Seabrook both played far from their best hockey on Saturday, and subsequently had a good look at each of the Flyers’ three goals.
On the positive side of the ledger, Kris Versteeg scored his second momentum-killing goal of the week quickly after the Hawks’ opponent had taken a lead. On Saturday, it came on the power play just seconds after a quick whistle had wiped away what should have been a game-tying goal for Jonathan Toews. Versteeg scored on a rebound to tie the game at one less than two minutes after Philadelphia took the lead.
Almost ten minutes after Versteeg’s goal, Marian Hossa gave the Hawks the lead with a wicked shot from just above the circle. That would be the end of the Hawks’ scoring on the afternoon, though, as Leighton stood on his head against an attacking offense. Not only did the Hawks get 41 shots to Leighton, but the Flyers were credited with 26 blocked shots. On the other end, the Blackhawks were also aggressive defensively, blocking 17 shots aimed at Huet.
This hard loss adds more intrigue to Sunday’s nationally televised game against the Caps. How will the Blackhawks bounce back from this devastating defeat? The answer could determine their postseason fate.