By JAY BOEHMER
Staff Writer — firstname.lastname@example.org
A better script could not have been written for this game.
Philadelphia, after losing three consecutive games in the best of seven series, won three in a row to tie the series and bring it to a winner-take-all Game 7 in enemy territory at Boston’s TD Garden.
Drama aplenty, the puck dropped and the Flyers got ready to fight to both make history and extend their playoff run into the Conference Finals.
The Bruins, who had only scored three power play goals in the series up until last night, cashed in with two within the first ten minutes. Michael Ryder buried a turnaround wrister past Michael Leighton after a Zdeno Chara point shot was blocked in the slot. Milan Lucic notched the second with a quick tip past Leighton after a cross-crease pass by Dennis Wideman on the rush.
Nearly 3/4ths of all teams that scored first in a Game 7 go on to win. The odds only get worse after a team scores two unanswered. And if that’s not bad enough, Boston had yet another up their sleeve.
With only a few minutes remaining in the first, Milan Lucic, a left hand shot, worked down the right side on a fast break before firing a shot between the legs of Leighton for his second and the Bruins’ third of the evening.
Coming back from a three game deficit and defying the odds just to be here in Game 7, the Flyers looked again to buck the trend and kick statistics to the curb. And they did just that.
It started with a fluke goal to energize the rookie James van Riemsdyk as his wrist shot was blocked down a defenseman yet continued to bounce past Tuukka Rask. This goal gave the Flyers a sign of life going into the first intermission.
Scott Hartnell, still working himself out of his scoring funk, gave the Flyers another level of confidence after backhanding a rebound from the stick of a spiraling Ville Leino.
The Flyers would not be denied, as they continued to step up their pressure on the Bruins. This culminated in a strange play as Danny Briere wrapped the puck around the Boston net. The puck bounced off the stick of a defenseman in front and over Rask’s pad for the game tying goal.
With one period to play, the Flyers had tied the game. A whole season of work, and it might be over after only twenty more minutes of hockey. This team didn’t like that ending.
With seven minutes left in the game, Simon Gagne found a rebound following a blocked shot, settled the puck down on his stick, and let a shot fly to the top corner over Rask.
That 4-3 lead in the game seemed strangely representative of the Flyers’ potential 4-3 win in the series, both after falling down 3-0.
The Flyers were able to buckle down in the final few minutes, hold the Bruins off with some timely clears, and Michael Leighton came through with a handful of pretty saves to keep the dream alive. As the horn rang and the clock hit zero, the stunned crowd of over 17,000 was in disbelief.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, a crowd of well over 10,000 present to watch the game from Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center, lost all control. History had been made. For only the third time in NHL history, a team had come back to win four straight games with their backs against the wall and steal a series. Coming back with four unanswered goals seemed to be the only appropriate way to do it.
This is the range of emotions that NHL playoff hockey brings to its fans and its players.
Despite all the odds being so heavily stacked against them, the Flyers brought nothing but “hard work and guts” and grinded it out for four straight games. In the words of Coach Peter Laviolette, they “proved themselves as men” through their resilience and determination.
The Flyers will be without much of a break. This could be seen as a positive, after their eight day layoff led to a slow start to these Conference Semifinals, yet, on the other hand, their battered, bruised, and injured players could use all the rest they can get.
Perhaps it’s best that they continue to play through on the momentum they picked up with the past four wins. Look for their hardworking style of play to continue on Sunday in Game 1 in Philadelphia.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Determination: The obvious factor. This team could much more easily have just given up after Game 3. Or they could have made it to Game 7 and rolled over after the first period three goal thrashing. But no, they kept biting at the Bruins, and clawed their way to a win. A group of men that finds a way to keep going in situations like this is easy to believe in going forward into the Conference Finals and possibly the Stanley Cup Finals.
Scott Hartnell / James van Riemsdyk: Two players with clear goal scoring woes, these two stepped up when they were needed most. For Scott Hartnell, his first goal of the playoffs came in Game 5, and he put another home last night to pull the Flyers within one. However, they wouldn’t have even been that close had it not been for JVR burying his first career playoff goal thanks to a little luck to get the scoring starting.
Simon Gagne / Danny Briere: Gagne and Briere are a pair of pure bred goal scorers. Briere stepped up his level of play from the regular season to the playoffs, notching seven goals and fifteen points in only twelve games. Gagne was missing for the Flyers three straight losses, but returned in time for the first of their four wins. In the first win and then again in the series-clinching win, Gagne put home the game winning goal. His clutch performances will continue to keep the Flyers alive in the next round.