PHILADELPHIA – The Flyers’ farfetched comeback is nearly complete.
Michael Leighton stopped 30 shots in his first start in nearly two months to help streaking Philadelphia beat the Boston Bruins 2-1 on Wednesday night and force a seventh game in Boston on Friday night.
“It’s not always the easiest route, but we seem to find a way,” Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger said.
Philadelphia’s season appeared over after it lost the first three games of the series. Not now. The Flyers are on the brink of history—and a spot in the Eastern Conference finals against Montreal.
The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders are the only NHL teams to overcome 3-0 deficits to win a best-of-seven playoff series. The Flyers are the first team to trail 3-0 and force a Game 7 since the ’75 Islanders.
Mike Richards and Danny Briere scored for the Flyers. Milan Lucic scored with a minute left for Boston.
“If you would have asked me before the series if it would go seven, I would have said yes,” Bruins defenceman Dennis Wideman said. “No one thought we would win three straight to start the series.”
It was an even bigger reach to expect the Flyers to win the next three. Richards, the Flyers’ captain, was stone faced discussing the significance of a Game 7 victory.
“It would mean we move on,” he said. “We’re not worried about any of the other stuff. We haven’t really done much right now.”
Leighton was everything the Flyers wanted in his first start since he sprained his ankle March 16. Leighton’s injury paved the way for Brian Boucher to take over and all he did was lead the Flyers into the post-season as the No. 7 seed and an upset over New Jersey in the first round.
Boucher sprained the MCL in his left knee in Game 5 and the job again belonged to Leighton. Boucher blew kisses to the crowd and fought back tears when he received a standing ovation from the orange-and-black diehards.
Boucher and Leighton combined for a 4-0 victory Monday night. Leighton said all he wanted this post-season was to return as Boucher’s backup. He’s done so much more—nearly 95 shutout minutes to start the post-season.
“It’s kind of hard not to be nervous when you have that crowd going like that right at the beginning of the game,” Leighton said. “It just took me a few minutes again just to get my feet.”
Boucher was about the only one saddened in Philly on this night.
The Wachovia Center felt at times like the setting for a classic rock concert. Montreal-Pittsburgh served as the opening act, the Canadiens’ dominating win over the Flyers’ in-state rivals enough to put the crowd on an emotional edge.
Richards sent them over it.
He knocked in a rebound 6:58 into the game for his fifth goal of the playoffs, pushing the crowd into a frenzy. The Flyers talked between Games 5 and 6 that all the momentum shifted their way—and all the pressure was on Boston.
“I’m sure the pressure is mounting even more,” Briere said.
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask surely felt the burden at 1-0.
The Flyers were the aggressors early, putting quick pressure on Rask and keeping the crowd of 19,929 into the game
Leighton calmed his early jitters when he took the puck right in his chest on a nice early save off Trent Whitfield’s short-handed breakaway shot.
“Everyone on the bench was rooting for him to score that goal,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “That would have been a big goal for us.”
Instead, Briere delivered when he made it 2-0 on a power-play goal that deflected high off Rask’s shoulder.
Rask was solid in goal with 25 saves. He made a nice glove save on Ville Leino’s penalty shot with 7:21 left in the third.
The Bruins just can’t get any get any offence going—no matter who’s in goal for the Flyers. Boston hadn’t scored since Mark Recchi forced Game 4 into overtime on a goal with 31.5 seconds left in regulation until Lucic made it 2-1.
“They really took it to us the first 10 minutes,” Julien said.
The Flyers had good reason to root for Montreal. Philadelphia would have home-ice advantage with a series win.
This was only the 11th time in 162 tries that a team facing a 3-0 deficit forced a Game 6. They are the sixth team in 11 tries to play a Game 7.
“Now that we’re here and now that we’ve climbed all the way back in this series, we want it too,” Briere said. “We have to realize that the last game will be the toughest to leave with.”
NOTES: The Flyers are 17-17 in Game 6s. … The Flyers have a 12-4 series record when winning Game 6. … Boston is 16-0 when leading a series 3-0. The Bruins swept 12 of them. … Flyers centre Blair Betts left with a shoulder injury, but is expected to play Game 7.