Three and out? Flyers earn one final shot
PHILADELPHIA — The Flyers can stop spouting off tired clichés about taking things one game at a time. After staying alive long enough to earn a chance at Game 7, they no longer have a choice.
Backed by an improbable performance from backup goalie Michael Leighton and another glowing game from Mike Richards, Philadelphia earned a 2-1 win last night and finally erased a 3-0 series hole. Now there really is just one game left to decide a winner.
“That was our mentality, just to go one game at a time,’’ said Claude Giroux of the team’s thinking. “Now it’s done. Now we’re at the last game.’’
On a quiet offensive night for the Bruins, the Flyers came out buzzing louder than ever. Richards led the charge, banging hard along the boards and keeping the puck moving during a shift alongside Simon Gagne and Daniel Carcillo, Philadelphia’s best trio in this series.
With all three forwards circling around Tuukka Rask, defenseman Kimmo Timonen floated a hopeful backhand pass from beside the net into the crease area. After Carcillo and Gagne each took whacks at it, Richards swooped in and finished the grinding shift, snapping a forehand shot past Rask at 6:58 for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
While Richards has been putting in the grunt work to pace the Flyers offensively, Danny Briere has been matching him point for point with a much more delicate brand of hockey. Briere’s finesse was on display again in the second period. During a four-on-three advantage the 5-foot-9-inch forward used the open ice by dipping through the slot left to right and putting a wrist shot by Rask’s glove. The score was Briere’s sixth and gave him 13 points in the past eight games.
“I tried to pass it when the puck came back to me and 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,’’ said Briere.
In front of Leighton, the backup thrust into the pipes when Brian Boucher sprained his knee in Game 5, Briere’s goal held up as the winner. Before allowing a last-minute score to Milan Lucic, Leighton stopped 30 shots, including turning away Trent Whitfield on a breakaway and back-to-back doorstep chances from Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi in the third.
“I’ve played a lot of NHL games now and I’ve never played one playoff game,’’ said Leighton, who spent nearly two months sitting out with an ankle sprain before practicing for the first time Sunday. “Just to start was a great feeling, especially knowing that I came off an injury and battled back.’’
“He was extraordinary tonight,’’ said defenseman Chris Pronger.
In the final minute of the second period the scoreboard showed that Montreal had finished off Pittsburgh in the other Eastern Conference semifinal and the orange-clad crowd applauded jubilantly, already envisioning home ice in the third round lying just one win away.
Once Philadelphia had sealed the victory, there were cheers going around the celebratory locker room as the winners yelled, “Game 7, baby! Game 7!’’
It took a complete turnaround, but the Flyers earned that Game 7, and are now in the position to think about advancing to host Montreal.
“I think we’re the sixth team in the history of the NHL to come back [to tie a series from 3-0],’’ said Briere. “That’s not good enough. I want to be part of those three teams that came all the way back and clinched.’’