By JAY BOEHMER Staff Writer — email@example.com _______
The Flyers had yet to lose a game in which they could clinch a series, the Canadiens had yet to lose a game in which they were on the verge of elimination. Someone had to budge.
Philadelphia and their fans had an early scare, and for some, images of Montreal coming back to topple the Capitals flashed through their heads. However, it wasn’t to be. The orange and the black would have none of that.
Chris Pronger tried one of his patented stretch passes early in the game, and it was promptly picked off by Roman Hamrlik, who turned it around on a 3-on-2 break. Brian Gionta found space and buried a shot five hole through Leighton’s wickets a mere 59 seconds into the game.
The Flyers looked sloppy in the first, as they racked up turnovers coupled with a pair of early penalties. Instead of playing with their backs against the wall, however, they turned the power play against the Habs and went on the offensive.
The captain Mike Richards took things into his own hand, taking out a Montreal defender and creating a fast break setting up a Braydon Coburn shot fought off by Halak.
Back in the defensive zone, Coburn dumped a Hab of his own, affording Claude Giroux time to clear the puck and spring Mike Richards on a near-breakaway. Jaroslav Halak flew up to the top of the circle to get the puck, but Mike Richards, aided by the defender Hamrlik, poked the puck past. Richards took his time to settle it down and slide the puck into a wide open net for a tied game off one of his uglier shorthanded tallies.
As a true leader should, Mike Richards took the game into his own hands and found the ugliest way possible to drive and fight for a goal that his team desperately needed. There’s something to be said for a player who simply will not be denied.
Following a lackluster opening period, the Flyers brought their stuff for the second, a period in which they’ve now outscored their opponents 26 to 7 in these playoffs.
The tie was broken as Matt Carle created a turnover at the blue line, caught the Canadiens looking to leave the zone, and found Arron Asham alone in front with time enough for a fake and a top corner shot.
Carrying their momentum from the second goal, the Flyers had a terrific cycle going around the Canadien zone. Kimmo Timonen stepped in from the point, fed a pretty saucer pass to Mike Richards who one timed it out front to Jeff Carter, with stick in hand. Carter’s quick redirection put the puck top shelf over Halak for his first goal since returning from a broken toe in the Quarterfinals.
The Flyers were in control, with a solid 3-1 lead, entering the third. Having won their last 18 straight playoff games with a third period lead, 9 this year, things should be business as usual.
If Montreal had anything to say about it, the final period standing between Philly and a Stanley Cup berth would be anything but. And they delivered.
With Montreal control in the offensive end, rookie defenseman PK Subban took the puck low, dragging Flyers D men with him. At the last second, he fed the puck out front just in time to find Scott Gomez sneaking into the slot for a shot to beat Leighton and pull within one.
With their lead looking tenuous, the Flyers made it all the more interesting as Chris Pronger took a four minute double minor for high sticking after drawing blood on Subban. Their best penalty killer in the box, things looked grim. Fortunately, their other top penalty had recently returned in the form of Ian Laperriere.
A couple of minutes in, he was able to block a point blank shot to keep his team alive long enough for his gritty play to draw a tripping penalty and cut the Canaidens chance short.
Back at even strength, the Flyers kept control of the puck, cleared it as needed, and held on until the last minute when Canadiens netminder was pulled for the extra attacker.
Mike Richards took care of business, shrugging off a defender on his way towards the net and setting up Jeff Carter for an insurance goal in the Flyers 4-2 win.
In an unbelievable season with more ups and downs than anyone can count, the Flyers have finally scratched and clawed their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. As founder and chairman Ed Snider has said, this is a “team of destiny”. They simply won’t be denied.
Now there’s one more hurdle between them and hockey history. The Chicago Blackhawks, champions of the Western Conference, look to take care of these upstart Flyers.
In an interesting note, Mike Richards had no qualms about lifting and carrying off his newly-acquired hardware, the Prince of Wales trophy awarded to the Eastern Conference champions. Jonathan Toews, captain of the Blackhawks, allowed superstition to take hold and avoided touching the West’s Clarence Campbell trophy.
Sidney Crosby, ever hated in and around Philly, took the load of Eastern Conference champs to come when he lifted the Prince of Wales on his way to last year’s Stanley Cup championship.
Eric Lindros, the Flyers captain during their last Cup Finals appearance in ’97, shied away from the Prince of Wales. The Flyers lost four straight in a Cup-winning sweep by the Detroid Red Wings that year.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Mike Richards: Questioned all season long for his ability to lead, Richards was never a very vocal leader. Last night he showed why he doesn’t have to be. Leading by example, playing with every bit of emotion in him seemingly dripping out of his pores, Richards brought his team to life with a desperation effort on their opening shorthanded goal. He extended the lead with a pretty pass to Jeff Carter, and finally sealed the deal with an amazing effort to set up Carter’s empty net finisher.
Michael Leighton: Shutouts in three of his four wins this series, Leighton is on his way to Stanley Cup history win or lose. He has uncanny timing, coming back just in time for Boucher to fall. His consistent play has carried the time every minute since.
Arron Asham: Not a shining star by any means, Asham stepped up his play when needed. That’s what the playoffs are about. When the top line guys are stifled, players like Asham need to create scoring chances to keep things going. He set himself up for more than a couple of wide open shots on Halak, including a breakaway after blowing by defensive ace Hal Gill. His second period goal opened up the Flyers dominant period and set his team up to score the eventual game winning goal.