PHILADELPHIA – Boston’s collapse was one for the ages. The Flyers had a comeback for the history books.
Down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, then down 3-0 in Game 7, the Philadelphia Flyers erased the long odds and pulled off a shocking rally to win the decisive game 4-3 and move on last season to the Eastern Conference finals.
Those kind of runs happen only, oh, every 30-plus years or so.
In fact, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders were the only NHL teams to overcome 3-0 deficits to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
Here they are again, one year later … in the same round. The 2010 East chokers vs. the 2010 East champs.
The Bruins sounded this week as if they were giving testimony before a congressional committee: They’re not here to talk about the past.
“Last year was last year, this year is this year,” Bruins winger Shawn Thornton said. “Half the team has been turned over. We’ve brought in some great people. So, it’s a whole new year.”
The Flyers, well, they also tried to insist this is a brand new series and their run of wins in Game 4, Game 5, Game 6 and Game 7 mean as much this May as playoff wins from 30 years ago.
They just weren’t convinced Boston had forgotten about its flop.
“I’m sure they’re going to use that to their advantage,” Flyers centre Danny Briere said Friday. “But at the same time, it goes both ways. We might be in their heads, as well. We have that confidence that no matter what happens, we seem to play well when we’re playing against them.”
The Bruins, of course, want to put the series to rest. Once the puck drops in Game 1 Saturday in Philadelphia, Boston will surely have an extra shot of motivation against the team that spoiled their Stanley Cup run.
“It’s always a new situation, it’s a new opportunity, and that’s how we’re looking at it,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Just a new opportunity for us to get past these guys and hopefully win this series.”
Laviolette said the Flyers also have big motivation: Win a Stanley Cup.
But it is true—like all rosters from year to year—that these teams are quite different.
Philadelphia’s Simon Gagne scored the Game 7 winner a year ago, but was traded in the off-season to Tampa Bay. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has been replaced by Tim Thomas. And Bruins forward Nathan Horton, a newcomer, scored the overtime winner in Game 7 to give them a win over the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.
Brian Boucher’s run as the starting goalie ended in Game 5 when he sprained the MCL in his left knee. That opened up the job for Michael Leighton, who led the Flyers to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. But Boucher is back in net, for now, after the Flyers used a three-goalie carousel in a seven-game first round vs. the Sabres.
Boucher, as well, brushed off the significance of last year’s upset.
“Last year plays no role into this year. This is a whole new year,” he said. “There are new faces in both locker rooms.”
New and old Flyers say they can win again—just maybe save the rallies for another day.
“Hopefully, we don’t spot them a three-game lead again,” Briere said. “That would be a lot easier.”
Sometimes, that win-or-else mentality fuels a post-season run. The Flyers won Game 6 in overtime in Buffalo and returned home to rout the Sabres in Game 7 to complete yet another series comeback, this one from down 3-2.
“I don’t believe in momentum in the playoffs,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “I believe in desperation.”
The Bruins had their share of desperation in the first round against Montreal. Boston rallied from a 2-0 hole in the series, a two-goal deficit in Game 4, and won a Game 7 in which they lost two leads. The Boston franchise had never won a playoff series after trailing 0-2.
The Bruins were also the first team to ever win a seven-game series without scoring a power-play goal. They went 0 for 21 vs. the Canadiens. The Flyers struggled with the man advantage as well, before scoring two power-play goals in Game 7 vs. Buffalo.
“There are lots of things that pop up and catch your attention at different times,” Laviolette said. “Certainly, power plays can win series, and penalty kills can win series. I guess that just proves not to say that it can’t win.”
The Bruins had four players score multiple goals in their series, but none who matched James van Riemsdyk’s four and Briere’s six for the Flyers.
Thomas saved 93 per cent of his shots in the first round and has a huge edge over the veteran Boucher.
But this series isn’t as much about how teams fare on power plays and shots on goal. It could be about how the teams handle questions and quiet doubts that fill every series.
If Boston takes a 2-0 lead, the Flyers will shrug it off. Hey, they won from that spot before. The Bruins will be bombarded with questions about how can they be sure they won’t cough up a lead.
“It doesn’t really have a factor on this year’s series, except for the fact we haven’t forgotten about it because (the media) remind us day in and day out,” Thornton said, “And I’m sure you will for the next two weeks.”