Questions surround 'Hawks youngsters

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:30 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA — About Dustin Byfuglien being a major player in the Stanley Cup final: Never mind.

The huge Chicago winger has come to epitomize all the questions that surround the Blackhawks now in light of their first back-to-back defeats in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

What seemed so certain when this series began, and again after two games, is suddenly and dramatically not at all certain anymore. This is no longer the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup to lose.

This is anybody’s Stanley Cup to win.

Now there are questions — and lots of them — about the Hawks. Are they good enough? Are they smart enough? Are they tough enough? Can they adjust to the style that has tied the Stanley Cup series after four games?

And the Philadelphia Flyers, in 29th place almost halfway through the regular season, out of the playoffs with one game to go in the standings, shootout winners in Game 82, down three games to the Boston Bruins in

Round 2, and playing this Cup final on house money, are the anybody’s that find themselves in the driver’s seat.

It is now a best-of-three for Lord Stanley’s mug with the Flyers looking as though they have solved the great Blackhawks puzzle and Chicago looking particularly vulnerable and surprisingly prone to significant errors, both mental and physical.

It does go back to Byfuglien in a symbolic way, and by extension, to defenceman Chris Pronger, who may be on his way to a Conn Smythe Trophy for all he has done in this and the previous three rounds.

Here’s the thing with Byfuglien, though. He was supposed to be the one player the Flyers wouldn’t have an answer for, the way the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks had no answer for him. But, instead, Byfuglien just looks big and clumsy, out of step with his linemates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. He hasn’t scored in the series, hasn’t really had any real scoring chances, hasn’t been a factor in front of the net, hasn’t provided anything resembling a problem for the Flyers.

Pronger, clearly, has gotten in his head and his body, and the pace of these games are particularly challenging for Byfuglien, who probably should be removed from his line to give Toews and Kane an opportunity to salvage this series.

The Flyers won Friday night but really the Blackhawks lost. A puck was stripped from Niklas Hjalmarsson for a power play goal that had nothing to do with being on the power play. That made it 1-0. Byfuglien made an ill-timed reversal in his own end, then the usually reliable Hjalmarsson made a bad pass and it was 2-0 Philadelphia. The Blackhawks, you could argue, were weak of hands and minds on both goals.

On the third Philadelphia goal, Claude Giroux was left all alone on the goal line, for an easy score. “I don’t have a clue what happened on that goal,” defenceman Brent Sopel said. “We have to look at this and correct these mistakes.”

And if that wasn’t enough, the Flyers have gotten to the previously impenetrable Antti Niemi, who at one point Friday night, if you go back to the overtime in Game 3, had allowed four goals in the last nine Philadelphia shots. Whatever edge he may have had is certainly in question.

The Blackhawks were valiant in the third period, dominating the Flyers, and trying to force overtime after coming back from 4-1 to 4-3. But it wasn’t enough.

Whether it’s enough to bring them back for Game 5 is just another question.

“We have to correct the miscommunications,” said Duncan Keith, the all-star defenceman. “It’s frustrating right now. We have to pick up our play.”

It may have to start with coach Joel Quenneville, how he chooses to utilize his lineup, what if anything he plans to do with Byfuglien.


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