Losses, but no loss of faith

Flyers never gave in, and now they move on

By Brendan Hall
Globe Correspondent / May 15, 2010

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“Home ice!’’ yelled various Philadelphia front office members from a room next to the visitors’ locker room. Simon Gagne had etched his name into Flyers lore with his Game 4 comeback and winning goal last night, and the joys were at an expected fevered pitch.

The yells next door, meanwhile, were something nearly inaudible, but wholly ecstatic. Team owner Ed Snider was offering high-fives all around. Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ’’ blared on the stereo as screams and ear-to-ear grins characterized the Flyers’ dressing room. Their fans hung over the nearby awning and chanted while debris were being cleared off the ice — rally towels, water bottles, even a Bruins jersey.

The Flyers did not flinch in this series, even as they faced virtually insurmountable odds, and it paid off in unbelievable fashion. They rallied after being down, 3-0, in the first period to win, 4-3, and join the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1975 Islanders as the only teams to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“This is an unbelievable feeling,’’ said Scott Hartnell. “Winning’s the best feeling in the world. I can’t imagine being in that [Bruins] locker room right now.’’

When Milan Lucic went far side on Michael Leighton to make it 3-0 less than 15 minutes in, thrusting the sellout TD Garden crowd into a frenzy, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette gathered his troops and didn’t display any worry. He told his players to relax, and stay out of the penalty box. After surrendering two power-play goals in the first nine-plus minutes, the Flyers got just one penalty the rest of the way.

“We had to relax and start playing the game,’’ said Danny Briere. “Me and Scott [Hartnell] were taking penalties that [were from] emotion, trying too hard, crossing the line at the beginning of the game. Peter’s words were relax, play the game, get back to what we can do, and let’s just try to get one goal before the end of the period.’’

And so with two minutes and change to go in the opening stanza, rookie James van Riemsdyk came up with an absolute marshmallow to make it 3-1, his one-timer in front skipping off Mark Stuart’s stick and sliding ever so softly behind Tuukka Rask.

“We probably would have kept battling even if we didn’t get that one, but yeah, that felt good,’’ said van Riemsdyk.

At that point, it seemed the advantage swung in the Flyers’ favor. Philadelphia won many puck battles, raced to quality chances off blocked shots, and cut off the Bruins’ middle drive almost flawlessly. All the while, the Flyers’ forwards grinded out net-front goals thanks to aggressive play.

First, Hartnell found an easy rebound at the far side of Rask after the goalie deflected Ville Leino’s three-quarter spin and shot, still in the opening minutes of the second. Then, at the eight-minute mark, Hartnell took the puck off the boards and found Briere streaking down the middle of the ice. Briere wrapped around the net and banked one in off Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick.

“For some reason my head thought go to the net and my hands went around the net,’’ Briere said.

Fittingly, the winner was yet another grit goal. Leino kicked out to Mike Richards from behind the net, and Richards fired a shot on Rask from the left circle that Gagne top-shelfed home on the rebound.

Gagne ended this series with four goals and an assist in four games since he returned from a broken toe. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Flyers won all four games.

“He’s got a gift and that gift helps our club win hockey games. And he’s doing it under the toughest of circumstances,’’ Laviolette said. “That’s what the Stanley Cup is.’’

And perhaps this is why, when hot Philadelphia goalie Brian Boucher badly sprained his knee in Game 5, the victory didn’t seem at all Pyrrhic. Nobody ever showed signs of panic in the Flyers’ locker room, even as the odds swung so heavily against them.

“It’s great,’’ Laviolette said. “We get to wake up tomorrow as a team and a group and go to the rink. We’re still here. We’re still standing.’’

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