PHILADELPHIA -- May sweeps is for network television, not whatever channel the NHL is on, it seems. Thanks to the game-winning goal by Simon Gagne, a Flyers' game-time decision just hours before the 7 p.m. puck-drop, Philadelphia lives to fight another day, defeating the Bruins, 5-4, in overtime Friday night at the Wachovia Center, and avoiding their first swift exit since the 1997 Stanley Cup Final (to the Detroit Red Wings).
It wasn't pretty -- both teams had more turnovers than a flapjack grill -- but it surely went heavy on the dramatics. Take the last-minute Bruins goal, which sent the game into overtime. It could've deflated a team like the Flyers, down 3-0 in the second round series, but the way they saw it, nothing that happened before mattered.
"The most important thing going back into the overtime was to completely wash out everything that happened in the game -- the good and the bad," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "[We had to] just leave it because it was now about scoring the next goal for survival, and beginning to make sure we focused on that, our game, out attack. I thought we played a really good overtime period."
It didn't matter that Bruins forward Mark Recchi had scored with 39 seconds left in regulation or that some spotty play in the Flyers net could very well have been the difference -- and not in a good way. It didn't matter that they had scored more goals than the last two games combined or that the Bruins were fighting as many injuries as they were. The only thing that mattered was that next goal, where it came from.
As fate would have it, it would come off the stick of Gagne, the Philadelphia winger who had missed the last 2½ weeks after undergoing surgery to repair his injured right foot. As fate would destine it, the goal would come on his first full shift of the overtime period.
"You go out there, and it's playoff hockey," Gagne said, explaining he felt the effects of two weeks' rest even more than his sore foot. "It's very fast, and I was little of short on breath, and that's why I didn't play in overtime. ... [But then] I just told [Laviolette] that I was feeling pretty good now and he could put me on the ice, and see what's going to happen. It was a good thing, that I was able to score that big goal."
He got the cross ice pass from Matt Carle, who finished the game with a team-high four points, to the left of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, and slid it in before the nimble goalie could cover the near post, and as the red light flared, the 19,702 orange-clad fans erupted in jubilation -- quite the opposite scene as they witnessed two days ago, when the Flyers fell, 4-1. But that was ancient history. All that mattered was that goal.
What certainly didn't matter was the goal that had come 59:28 into the game. With Rask watching from the bench, Philadelphia, up 4-3 at that point, took a timeout after icing the puck in order to let its players catch their breath. But when the puck dropped, it found its way through the Bruins' zone and onto Recchi's stick, waiting backdoor on Flyers goalie Brian Boucher. The 42-year-old winger flipped in his sixth goal of the postseason, the most he's scored since he won the Cup with Carolina in 2006.
It erased Philadelphia's second lead of the game, something the Flyers only owned for 99 seconds before Friday's do-or-die game. After Danny Briere answered with a goal late in the first, defenseman Chris Pronger and winger Claude Giroux each got pucks past Rask in the second period. The Bruins, however, were not going to give up, but they did benefit from a little help from Boucher.
The imaginary clock on the Philadelphia netminder, the Cinderella-story of the first round, a 33-year-old journeyman who outdueled surefire Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur just weeks earlier, is steadily ticking toward midnight, and it's not just the orange jersey that's making him look a bit like a pumpkin. When the Bruins' Recchi opened the scoring 15:37 into the game, it was off a juicy rebound, and Boucher, looking like a bag of toys, got caught on his side and Recchi shot high.
But the real buzzkill came midway throught the second period, when the Bruins, hard on the forecheck, kept the puck in the zone off a Daniel Carcillo giveaway. Boston defenseman Matt Hunwick found Michael Ryder in the high slot, and the 30-year-old winger put his weight into a shot on Boucher. So much weight that he snapped his stick in half, and the puck shanked wide of the net. But the boards are alive at the Wachovia Center, and the puck bounced straight off the end boards, back into a vulnerable position. Boucher, who's looked far more skiddish in his crease in this round, pounced on top of the puck -- only he missed, sort of. As bodies came flying toward the crease, out from under Boucher, like a roach scampering out from a rock, the puck slid into the goal, pulling the Bruins to within one.
If the goal didn't zap the energy or confidence of the Flyers and their netminder, it at least invited Boston back into the game. In the third minute of the third period, the Bruins tied it on the power play, when Milan Lucic tipped a point shot that whizzed up and over Boucher's shoulder. But with less than six minutes left in regulation, Philadelphia winger Ville Leino, who came into the lineup after Jeff Carter and Gagne went out during the first round against New Jersey, put the Flyers back ahead, tipping in a Pronger shot by Rask.
But Gagne's back now. And so is that winning feeling in Philadelphia.
"It's a good ending," Gagne said. "I cannot ask for more. To be able to come back a little early in the series, to be able to score that big goal, it's fun. It's fun to score goals, but when you get those in overtime, it's the best feeling in the world."
Still down, but at least not out, the Flyers can only hope to get it back.