What the Flyers have done is truly amazing – with a 4-3 victory in Boston tonight, the Flyers clinched a date with the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals after being behind in the series 3-0. Your 2009-2010 Flyers are only the fourth major sports team to accomplish the feat.
Game 7 was a microcosm of the entire series. The first 14:10 minutes of the game represented games 1 through 3. It seemed like the Bruins always had an extra skater on the ice. Leighton provided sub par goaltending. To be quite frank, it sucked. Michael Ryder pounded home a loose puck just over 5 minutes into the game to quickly give Boston a 1-0 lead on the powerplay after a typical Hartnell penalty; the goal was assisted by Flyer-killer Mark Recchi. Just four short minutes later, again on the powerplay, Milan Lucic slapped the rubber by Leighton short side to give Boston a 2-0 lead. And with 5:50 to go in the first, on a 2 on 1, Lucic fired the puck through Leighton's five-hole to give Boston a daunting 3-0 advantage. The third goal should have been stopped; Pronger played the odd man rush perfectly, preventing the pass and forcing Lucic to shoot, but the shot snuck through a sliding-backwards Leighton five hole.
The remainder of the game represented games 4 through 6; in a way, it was symbolic that the Flyers were down 3-0 in the game like they were in the series. Despite an upcoming commercial break, Laviolette used his timeout after the third Boston goal. According to Chris Pronger, Lavy simply reminded the team that the game wasn't over, and to score a goal before the end of the first. JVR, silent throughout the entire series, netted his first career playoff goal before the period closed to pull the Flyers within two.
The second period was an absolute onslaught from the Flyers. Scott Hartnell, in an effort to make up for his poor opening period, backhanded a rebound over Tuukka Rask to cut the B's lead to 1 early in the second. The Flyers smelled blood. The Bruins lead completely evaporated after Danny Briere tied the game 8:39 into the second on a wraparound. It appeared that the Flyers took the lead on a loose puck in front late in the second, but Toronto did not overrule the no-goal call on the ice. (Toronto replay official: "What's that? Oh, a Flyer shot it? Just wait three minutes and call no goal due to inconclusive evidence.")
The third period was a back and forth affair. The Flyers had a golden opportunity to take the lead midway through the third period after a Bruins' too many men infraction. On the ensuing powerplay, Simon Gagne took advantage and tallied the eventual game winner on a snapshot from the slot. By dumping the puck deep into the Bruins zone for the remaining 7 minutes, and with the help of Michael Leighton, the Flyers held on for the 4-3 come from behind victory. Those clam chowdah eaters were sent home pretty unhappy.
Now for my experience. Early Thursday morning, I flew to Disney World for a week-long family vacation. I happily packed my bags with Flyers t-shirts following the Game 6 victory, looking forward to showing my Flyer pride in Orlando. Surprisingly, there have been a ton of Flyers and Phillies fans here. Literally. I happened to drag my family to ESPN Zone on the Boardwalk in Disney World for the game tonight, and the place was full of Flyers fans. It provided an awesome atmosphere to watch the game, and the restaurant was rocking as the Flyers made history.
I asked myself, "Are there really this many Philadelphians in Disney right now?" Well, on Spaceship Earth in Epcot, riders are encouraged to enter their hometown location on the beginning of the ride. (If you enter nothing, Orlando is set as the default.) At the end of the ride, there was a population density map of the rider's hometowns. Take a look.
We officially have plenty of Philly fans in Disney World, and I'm loving every minute of it.
Now that the second round is over, its a good time to look back at my series predictions and keys, which can be found here if you're curious. To start, I predicted the Flyers would win the series in 6. Thankfully, the Flyers won the series in memorable fashion in 7 games. Close enough.
The Boston offense was effective early in the series. But in Games 5 and 6, when it mattered most, the regular-season Bruins anemic offense reared its ugly head. The loss of Marco Sturm, the Bruins leading scorer in the regular season, had to hurt late in this series. Also as predicted, the Flyers wore down the Bruins physically. When the Bruins upped their physicality late in Game 5, things began to get nasty. But that's what playoff hockey is about. Usually as a series gets longer, the physicality increases. This series was no different. I predicted that Rask would steal "a couple" games for the Bruins. In reality, Rask only stole Game 3 when the Bruins won 4-1. Although Rask was good in the series, he was definitely beatable on most nights.
What impressed me about the Flyers was their grit, resiliency, and determination. The Flyers have proven that they play their best hockey with their backs against the wall. While its concerning that they allow themselves to fall into big holes, its amazing how they pull themselves right back up. Not many teams have this quality, but its a quality that championship teams usually have. If there could be a series MVP, it would have to be Simon Gagne. Gagne returned to the series in Game 4 after surgery to insert a screw into his broken big right toe, and promptly scored the game winning goal in OT. Gagne netted two goals in Game 5, and scored the game-winner in Game 7. Danny Briere has also proven that he steps up in big games; he scored the game tying goal tonight, his seventh of the playoffs.
Here are my predictions for the Eastern Conference Finals – #7 Philadelphia Flyers versus #8 Montreal Canadiens.
Headline: "Battle of the Cinderella Teams" – Flyers upset #3 seed Devils and come back from 3-0 series defecit. Montreal knocked off #1 seed Capitals and #4 seed Penguins.
Goaltending: The Canadiens have the hottest goalie in the NHL in Jaroslav Halak. He is remarkably consistent, eats up rebounds, and has the ability to single-handedly win games. To be honest, the Canadiens are a very average team with a superb goaltender. A goaltender who stopped Alex Ovechkin in the quarterfinals and Crosby, Malkin, & Co. in the seminfinals. Except for the first period of Game 7, Leighton has played well since replacing Boucher, but he is no Halak. Advantage: HUGE Montreal
X-Factors: Both Montreal and Philadelphia have momentum. Montreal was behind 3-1 against the #1-seed Capitals before rolling off three straight wins to advance to the semifinals. Montreal was also behind 3-2 in their series against the defending Stanley Cup Champions before they fought back to beat the Pens in 7 last round. As you know, the Flyers completed a 3-0 comeback to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. For the first time I can remember, the #7 seed will have home ice advantage. Crowds in both Philly and Montreal will be loud, but the visiting team is 4 for 4 thus far in the playoffs in Game 7. Advantage: EVEN
Defense: Chris Pronger. Chris Pronger. Chris Pronger. In addition, Andrei Markov, the Canadiens leading offensive defenseman, hasn't played since Game 1 of the second round with a knee injury. His loss definitely hurts Montreal. Hal Gill is the most prominent defender on the Habs blueline, but he is an aging veteran that has been banged up lately. Advantage: Flyers
Offense: Like Simon Gagne for the Flyers, Mike Cammaleri has been on a tear for the Canadiens. Montreal also has formidable offensive threats in Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec (who had a breakout year), and the speedy Kostitsyn brothers. However, despite missing Jeff Carter, I love the Flyers offensive depth with Richards, Gagne, and Briere, backed with the playmaking skills of Giroux and the hands of Leino. Advantage: Flyers
Prediction: Flyers in 6