Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manic Cup series impossible to call

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CHICAGO -- The last time the Chicago Blackhawks had to burn some free time during the Stanley Cup playoffs, their coach put them in Alcatraz.

"Could have locked them up for a couple of days," Joel Quenneville quipped.

Who knows, some of them might have liked it. Ever seen Ben Eager play? The guy seems at home trapped in solitary confinement. But that's just for a few minutes at a time.

Quenneville, however, was harkening back to the Blackhawks' sweep of the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final, when on a rare day off the boys took a visit to the notorious San Francisco penitentiary, now shuttered.

The point is, two days is a long time to roll over the manic shifts of momentum that have come to characterize the Blackhawks' raging battle for NHL supremacy versus the Philadelphia Flyers.

Game 6 won't transpire, however, until Wednesday night. And if anyone out there is making predictions about how this final will unfold with certainty, then we've got a hockey team in Phoenix to sell you.

The biggest question mark, with the Hawks just a single victory from glory, is which masked man the Flyers will trot out to guard the twine in Philly: leaky Michael Leighton or the rusty Brian Boucher?

These are not the kind of decisions a head coach wants to be making at the dusk of a Stanley Cup final, which the Flyers trail 3-2.

Meanwhile, you've got Flyers' support-beam defenceman Chris Pronger still nursing Game 5 -- a 7-4 rout by the Hawks -- with a stats sheet that brandished him a minus-5. Pronger was incarcerated for a sixth Chicago goal.

Given that the Philly veteran defenceman was being talked up as a Conn Smythe candidate only the day before, you can imagine the glee surging through the Chicago bench as Pronger dug puck after puck out of his own net.

"I think we've been looking for that throughout the whole series," said Hawks' mullet-haired waterbug Patrick Kane, who scored on Sunday and added an assist. "With him (Pronger) on the ice, he's a big guy. But we feel we can get around him and make some good plays when he's on the ice. He plays a lot of minutes. I don't know if we can get him tired out there and make him make mistakes or -- obviously, he was on the ice for a lot of goals.

"If we can play like we did against him tonight, it's going to make it tough on him. (We'll) try to make him draw penalties and hopefully score when he's in the penalty box."

At least Pronger kept his sense of humour. Asked about his health status in the gloom of Game 5, he replied: "I'm day-to-day with hurt feelings."

But when it comes to momentum shifts and the mental state of the individual characters involved, Pronger has a truckload of company.

Chicago's large and erratic forward Dustin Byfuglien was on milk cartons prior to Game 5, but by the time the United Center had emptied, Big Buff was basking in the glow of a two-goal, two-assist night. And that only happened after 48 hours of hand-wringing by the Hawks coaching staff, who juggled their top two lines completely, splitting up the top unit of captain Jonathan Toews, Kane and Byfuglien.

"Yeah, I think he (Byfuglien) got rid of us and started performing," Kane said with a grin. "That's all he needed. He was a force. He had some big hits. The one on Pronger, I think everyone remembers, where he threw him into the boards."

Indeed, if there was one moment that defined Game 5, it was Byfuglien throwing Pronger into the boards like a 6-foot-6 rag doll. Especially since after the Flyers came back from a 2-0 series deficit to win Games 3 and 4, the consensus was that the bigger, meatier Flyers were wearing down the fleet-footed young Hawks.

Funny how notions can change. But that's the 2010 Stanley Cup final for you: Nothing is as it seems for very long. Less makes sense.

I mean, how can you explain Flyers captain Mike Richards' tenuous explanation for the Flyers falling behind 3-0 before the first intermission on Sunday.

"Maybe we might have been a little bit cocky and might have thought we had to throw our sticks on the ice," Richards said, "but obviously that was not the case."

A little bit cocky? A seventh-seed that squeaked into the playoffs on the last game of the season?

Clearly, confidence is a quality the Philadelphia Flyers do not lack. Vowed Flyers forward Ville Leino: "We came back and went in the hole after two losses. We're going to come back. And we're going to win the next game at home."

Ah, the only truth of these finals: Home is where the heart is.

And the road?

Does Alcatraz ring a bell?

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 8, 2010 C4

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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