PHILADELPHIA – One goal away from missing the playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers weren’t content with just getting in.
After needing a shootout victory over the New York Rangers on the final day of the regular season to secure a post-season berth, the Flyers rose to another level in their first-round series against New Jersey. They eliminated the second-seeded Devils in five games to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“With a couple of pieces missing from our lineup, we’ve been successful because we’ve been committed,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s a group that’s shown a lot of heart and a lot of character to get into the playoffs and get through this first round against a very good New Jersey team.”
How’s this for commitment and heart? Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne each broke their right foot by blocking shots in Game 4. Ian Laperriere left with a nasty cut over his right eye that took 60-70 stitches to close after he blocked Paul Martin’s shot in the third period of Game 5.
Now the Flyers get to rest, heal and wait for an opponent. The No. 7 seed most likely will face Washington, which lost to Montreal 2-1 on Friday night but still leads the series 3-2.
The Flyers opened the season with Stanley Cup expectations after acquiring former NHL MVP Chris Pronger and signing Emery. They underachieved early, and a rough stretch eventually cost coach John Stevens his job in December. Laviolette took over, but the team couldn’t consistently win and struggled down the stretch.
Beating Washington seems an enormous task, especially without top forwards Carter and Gagne. But other players stepped up against the Devils. Enforcer Dan Carcillo scored an overtime goal in Game 3, and sophomore forward Claude Giroux had four goals, including a pair in the 3-0 clinching win.
Journeyman goalie Brian Boucher was the biggest surprise in the series. In his third stint with the Flyers, Boucher was forced into a starting role because of injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton. All he did was outplay Martin Brodeur, the four-time Vezina Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion.
For Boucher, it’s a small measure of revenge. He was a rookie starter in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals when the Flyers let a 3-1 series lead slip away to the Devils, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. Philadelphia was up 3-2 before star centre Eric Lindros returned to the lineup after missing a few months because of a concussion.
“It feels good,” Boucher said. “You never know if you’re going to get another chance to be in a situation like this. I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Boucher allowed eight goals in the series and posted a .940 save percentage. He gave up just four goals at even strength, when the Flyers dominated the Devils. New Jersey didn’t score without a power play after the second period of Game 2.
“You’ve got to give him a lot of credit because he hung in there,” Laviolette said of Boucher. “He’s playing extremely well. He was in charge of his crease. He was in charge of the puck.”