Philly's can-do spirit sparks run at a playoff comeback for the ages
Only two teams -- the '42 Leafs and '75 Isles -- have rallied from 0-3 deficits
The Flyers are just the sixth team to force a Game 7 after the 0-3 series hole
Not even a goaltender change could diffuse the Flyers' stifling defensive pressure
PHILADELPHIA -- The video board at the Wachovia Center said it all before the game. As the Flyers took the ice for warmups, they could read a poster pressed up against the glass that read: "1942 Toronto Maple Leafs ... 1975 New York Islanders ... 2010 Philadelphia Flyers!" Perhaps a couple days premature, the thought was and has been on everybody's mind. Since Philadelphia pulled off two improbable wins, a 5-4 overtime thriller and a 4-0 drubbing in Boston, there's been that sense that history might be made here. Apart from the '42 Leafs and '75 Isles, only three other teams have even forced a Game 7. Now, after a 2-1 win over the Bruins Wednesday night, you can add the 2010 Flyers to the list of come-from-behind, never-say-die teams.
"It's special," Flyers winger Danny Briere said after the game. "We're the sixth team in the history of the NHL to come back, [but] it's not good enough. I want to be part of the [two other] teams that came all the way back."
The video montage before the puck dropped boasted Philadlphia as the city that never quits (with the statue of Rocky floating in the background, naturally). When the Flyers took the ice, it was to the triumphant theme of Philadelphia's people's champion. Against all odds, they just knew that it could be done. "[It's about] not looking past that game in front of you, not looking past that last shift," Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said. "You never know what's going to happen out there. I've seen a lot of funny things over the course of my career ... you never know what's going to happen."
Despite throwing shot after shot in the direction of Flyers goalie Michael Leighton, the league's lowest-scoring offense had that familiar feeling revisit them. A couple of posts, and a couple of very solid stops by Leighton silenced nearly every Bruins rally.
Leighton, who only returned to the Flyers lineup three days ago after missing two months with a high ankle sprain, made 30 saves in his first career playoff win. The 28-year-old netminder was forced to return maybe a little earlier than expected after playoff starter Brian Boucher injured his knees during the second period of Game 6. But coming in relief, he kept the Bruins off the board in Game 5 and until the final minute of Wednesday's game.
"I thought he was really sharp," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. "As the game went on, I thought he got stronger. Just watching him, it seemed like he was in charge of his net. [And when] they picked it up in the second and third period, the better their chances got and the sharper he looked."
The Flyers opened up the scoring about seven minutes into the game when Mike Richards punched in a puck that was coughed up during a scramble in front of the Bruins' crease. Boston goalie Tuukka Rask got caught on his back, hoping that his 6-foot-3 frame would cover the puck, but the sustained pressure in front of the net by Daniel Carcillo and Simon Gagne created one of those dirty goals the Flyers have lived on. Though the Bruins were able to generate shots -- 31 to Philadelphia's 27 by the end of the game -- the quality chances and second chances weren't so easy to come by. The Flyers kept them on the outside particularly well in the first period, and when the chances began to get better as the game wore on, Leighton seemed to get stronger, as well.
On the 4-on-3 power play, with less than five minutes to go in the second period, Briere drove down and went wide. He tried to pass the puck across the crease, but it came right back to his stick. "When the puck came back to me, I just thought it was meant to be, so I took it to the net, and I was thinking shoot after that all the way," Briere said. He threw rising shot onto Rask, which bounced up the Bruins logo and went high over the goalie's glove-hand shoulder. It was the 32-year-old winger's sixth goal of the playoffs, his sixth in eight games. "At this point, the puck seems to be finding the back of the net for me," he said. "So I'm just trying to put as many pucks as I can on net."
Briere's goal ended up being a necessary cushion for Philadelphia, as Bruins winger Milan Lucic scored with a minute to go in the game. With the Boston net empty, Lucic batted in a rebound from a Dennis Wideman shot from the point, cutting the lead in half. "It was nice to get one past them," Lucic said. "But we didn't generate enough chances [overall]."
As improbable as it was, the Flyers did everything they needed to do, blocking shots (30 on the night), obstructing passing lanes and winning battles. They make the sacrifices necessary to win these tight playoff games, because that is what Philadelphia's been doing for awhile now.
"[This is] certainly not a path that you choose," Laviolette said. "You'd rather have done things differently during the course of the year and the playoffs. [But] we found ourselves down 0-3 in the series, and the players deserve a tremendous amount of credit because they won't quit.
"Every time they're pushed, they push back," he continued. "They're a very resilient group out there ... and they won't go away. It's become a strength of ours based on the course of things that have happened throughout the year, down the stretch. The adversity we've faced, I feel like we're conditioned to it now."
Yes, it's been a tough season for the Flyers. When you can say you were sitting in 14th place in the Eastern Conference at one point, went through a midseason coaching change, fought for a playoff spot until literally the last day of the regular season -- and in a shootout to boot -- what's a little 0-3 series hole?
With another improbable win, this Philadelphia team has shown there really isn't much they cannot overcome.
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