PHILADELPHIA – Brian Boucher couldn’t make the stops. He opened his arms wide as a blue line and let all the Flyers in. Danny Briere was first with the celebratory hug. Claude Giroux joined the mob that swarmed Boucher.
The Flyers needed three periods, overtime, and a thrilling shootout in the 82nd game to make the playoffs.
Might as well go wild.
Boucher stopped Olli Jokinen on the final attempt of the shootout to send the Philadelphia Flyers into the playoffs while eliminating the New York Rangers with a 2-1 victory Sunday.
“I think everybody on the bench was thinking about that last shot that he stopped,” Briere said. “That was a big rush for us on the bench. I can’t imagine what it was for him.”
The final game of the regular season felt more like Game 7 of a playoff series. Win and advance; lose and go home.
The Rangers and Flyers felt 65 minutes of pressure in a game with post-season atmosphere, starting with the scalpers hawking tickets up and down the streets into the Wachovia Center.
“Hopefully we can do something with our lifeline here and use the excitement and euphoria from this win and from our last little stretch of games here to propel us and do good things here in the playoffs,” defenceman Chris Pronger said.
The Flyers earned the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and will play New Jersey.
The Rangers forced what was essentially a one-game playoff when they beat the Flyers on Friday night. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was sensational, but Matt Carle tied the game at 1 early in the third period.
Briere and Giroux scored in the shootout for the Flyers. In between, P.A. Parenteau scored for the Rangers.
Lundqvist was stellar in goal, stopping 46 shots from every angle. The Flyers outshot the Rangers by almost a 2-1 margin, but could never slip the puck past the goalie coach John Tortorella expected to carry them into the post-season.
“If it wasn’t for that goaltender, I think we would have won this game pretty handily,” Boucher said.
Jody Shelley came close to haunting the Flyers for a long summer. He hadn’t scored all season until he got one in Friday’s 4-3 win that pushed the Rangers to the brink of the post-season.
Shelley struck again and quieted a rowdy crowd when he scored only 3:27 into Sunday’s game. He deflected a shot from the point past a stunned Boucher – who led the Flyers to the 2000 Eastern Conference finals then bounced around the league – for a 1-0 lead.
That’s the way it stood – and felt like it would stand.
“Terrific, just terrific,” Tortorella said of Lundqvist.
Lundqvist didn’t have the words, other than saying, “it’s really hard.”
He was at his best in front of a hostile and loud crowd.
They roared when Lauren Hart, the daughter of longtime former Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart, sang “God Bless America,” alternating lyrics with Kate Smith, who was on a video image. Smith’s rendition of the song has been a rallying anthem for the Flyers since the mid 1970s.
The Flyers ended a pre-game video with a simple message: “Today We Clinch!”
They made the orange-and-black faithful wait until the last shot.
“Hey, it’s entertainment, what it’s supposed to be,” Pronger said. “We’re just trying to give the fans what they wanted.”
Lundqvist made the 1-0 lead stand until early in the third. Briere’s shot from the circle bounced off the goalie and Jeff Carter poked the rebound to Matt Carle for his sixth goal of the season and a 1-1 score.
The Flyers were pegged as pre-season Stanley Cup favourites until a series of injuries in goal nearly cost them the post-season. Coach Peter Laviolette couldn’t turn them into consistent winners once he took over for the fired John Stevens in December. They all get a chance to put a frustrating regular season behind them now.
As good as Lundqvist was, he came up a couple stops short in the shootout.
Briere scored on the first attempt, and Erik Christensen missed for New York. Mike Richards missed for the Flyers and Parenteau’s goal evened it.
Giroux scored to set up Jokinen’s final attempt. Jokinen – who was 5-for-9 this season in shootouts – deked Boucher and finished with a backhand that softly bounced off the goalie’s pad.
The Rangers head home after a strong run to end the season. Their three-week run wasn’t enough and they’ll miss the post-season for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
“We believed that we could get in the playoffs, play well and build chemistry with the guys that we had, and the new guys that came in were great,” Rangers defenceman Marc Staal said.
NOTES: Pronger was selected team MVP and most outstanding defenceman. Defenceman Carle was most improved and Ian Laperriere was voted the Flyer who best illustrates character, dignity and respect for the sport both on and off the ice. Laperriere also won the Gene Hart Memorial Award, given to the player who demonstrated the most “heart” this season.