For the Flyers, it’s sudden life
PHILADELPHIA — There was no great oratory, according to Chris Pronger. Yeah, the milk was all over the floor. But the game wasn’t over.
“Not much was said,’’ Pronger said. “You’ve got to just catch your breath, collect your thoughts, stay focused on what you need to do. A 4-3 lead with 35 seconds to go, they get a goal. Sometimes that happens. You’ve got to turn the other cheek and get ready to go. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you.’’
And so what could have been an absolutely brutal loss for the Philadelphia Flyers turned into a joyous win when returning veteran Simon Gagne tapped in a goal at 14:40 of overtime last night to give his team a 5-4 victory over the Bruins and send these two back to Boston for Game 5 Monday night.
Gagne missed the first three games with a broken toe. But he was cleared for action and he delivered the big goal, just as a returning Marc Savard had given the Bruins a 5-4 overtime victory in Game 1. There’s a story involving symmetry in there somewhere.
But the only story that matters is this: This series isn’t over.
Predictably, the word character was thrown around the Flyers’ locker room. Mercifully, no one was heard uttering the words desperate and hockey in the same sentence. In fact, I never heard the word desperate at all. The Flyers may have been trailing the series, three games to none, but they were not defeated in any sense because they truly believed the series could just as easily have been 3-0 the other way. That may not have been entirely true, but that’s the way they felt.
“We don’t want to sit here and complain,’’ said goaltender Brian Boucher. “But I don’t think we got that many breaks to this point. We’re happy to get this win and get off the schneid.’’
After falling behind, 1-0, on a Mark Recchi goal in the first period, the Flyers were up, 3-1, past the midway point of the second period. But the Bruins came up with a mysterious goal to make it 3-2.
Repeated viewings yielded no strong conclusions. A Michael Ryder shot slid by Boucher on the left, hitting the backboard and bounding straight back. Boucher went down for the puck, and somehow or other the little black piece of rubber was seen trickling into the goal. Ryder was given credit.
“I was going to tie it up,’’ Boucher said. “It hit the inside of my stick. I don’t know if he whacked it or not. I was going to freeze it. But he must have whacked it.’’
It counted and suddenly the Bruins were back in the game.
Milan Lucic tied it at 3:49 of the third period and Ville Leino untied it at 14:20 and that’s where it stood with just under 40 seconds left and Boston goalie Tuukka Rask pulled in favor of the extra attacker. First, there was a Darroll Powe attempt for an empty-netter that resulted in a faceoff in front of Boucher. Savard lost that faceoff, but in a dizzying sequence of superb around-the-horn passing, the ever-present Recchi zipped it by Boucher with 32 seconds left.
But if there’s any such thing as momentum in these matters, the Flyers weren’t going to acknowledge it.
“The most important thing going into the overtime was to wash away completely what had happened in the game,’’ said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, “both the good and the bad. You just have to score the next goal.’’
It’s hard to win four straight playoff games, in any sport, and God forbid anyone wearing black and gold mention the dreaded “S-word.’’
That point had been driven home earlier in the day when a reporter mentioned to Claude Julien that he couldn’t induce any of Julien’s players to speculate about a, you know, sweep.
“That’s because it’s never easy,’’ Julien pointed out. “You can’t talk about it before it happens. All we’re talking about is that we need to win tonight. That’s all I can tell you about that.’’
On the flip side, no one needed any pep talks or additional motivation. Apparently, the big Detroit blowout of San Jose in a similar 0-3 situation the night before never came up in the Philly room. They knew what they had to do.
“We had to get a win,’’ said Boucher. “Obviously this is a big win for us. We squandered a two-goal lead, but we still got the win. Now the pressure’s on them. We have nothing to lose.’’ (Words directly from the hockey manual.)
A victory validates the strongly held premise inside the Philly locker room that, regardless of the series standing, there is very little to choose between these teams. The Flyers believe they have played well for long stretches and that much credit for the victories in Games 1, 2, and 3 belongs to Rask, who was superb in each game. But it is safe to say he did not bring anything close to his A game last evening, and that as many as three Flyer goals might not have been scored if he had. He was, frankly, mortal.
That’s another reason the late Boston goal in regulation didn’t deflate the hosts. They continued to feel it was their night.
“We had done a lot of good things in the game,’’ declared Flyers captain Mike Richards. “They really didn’t do anything in the final 10 minutes except for the one goal.’’
The idea of injured warrior Gagne getting the winning goal played into hockey myth. No one knows for sure just what percent of his normal self he is, but it’s nowhere close to 100.
“It was great to have him back,’’ said Pronger. “You can’t depend on one or two guys to score all your goals.’’
Addressing the Gagne injury, Pronger said, “This is the time of year you’ve got to take a punch in the face, or whatever. They say if you’re not injured now, it probably means you aren’t playing at all.’’
A sweep of these guys was a thought, but was it ever realistic? Nah. And did the Bruins really deserve to win this game? Nah.
They’ll meet again Monday at 7 atop the train station. It’s only proper.