PHILADELPHIA – The Boston Bruins are one win away from a surprising trip to the Eastern Conference finals that has been 18 years in the making.
Blake Wheeler and Miroslav Satan scored 94 seconds apart to stun the Philadelphia Flyers on their home ice and get Boston rolling in Game 3. Tuukka Rask took over from there and made all the huge saves.
Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron also scored for Boston in a 4-1 win over the Flyers that lifted the Bruins to a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern semifinal series on Wednesday night.
Boston is on the brink of a sweep and a berth in hockey’s final four for the first time since 1992.
“We are in good shape, but now we have to take care of business,” Rask said.
Rask finished with 34 saves after allowing a quick goal. The Bruins can complete the sweep in Philadelphia on Friday night.
“It was just one of those games when you see a lot of shots, you feel comfortable, you’re not making any extra moves and you’re standing there and everything seems to hit you,” Rask said.
Wheeler and Satan scored in the first period to wipe out the Flyers’ early lead, and the Bruins never looked back. They won the first two games of the series at home?and the Bruins might not play in Boston again until the conference finals.
Arron Asham scored for the Flyers. Philadelphia has never won a series when trailing 3-0 (0-6). Only two NHL teams have recovered from such a deficit and advanced.
“We outplayed them pretty much in the first two periods. Our confidence was fine, we just couldn’t get the puck past Tuukka,” Asham said. “He made some big saves for them and blocked a lot of shots. I think if we play the same way Friday night, we will be fine.”
The Flyers’ first home playoff game since April 20 had an unusual vibe from the start. There were large patches of empty seats?mostly in the upper deck?and the normally rocking crowd of 20,000-plus was quiet from the opening faceoff.
Perhaps they sensed something.
The Flyers gave their fans a quick jolt, scoring first when Asham flipped the puck under a sliding Rask’s glove only 2:32 in. It did more than give the Flyers the first lead of the game?it was their first lead of the series.
And their last one of the night.
The Bruins took over from there, even as injuries forced centre David Krejci and Adam McQuaid out of the game. Krejci was levelled on a crushing hit from Flyers captain Mike Richards that actually led to Boston’s go-ahead goal.
The loose puck was corralled by Milan Lucic, who got it to Satan for his fifth goal of the post-season and a 2-1 Boston lead.
Bruins coach Claude Julien said Krejci and McQuaid were being evaluated and was unsure if they would be available for Game 4.
“For us to go down to a short bench and be able to sustain that and everything else, I thought our guys responded well,” Julien said. “If anything, I thought it was a real gutsy effort on our part.”
The Bruins were outshot by a 2-to-1 margin most of the game. The Flyers had plenty of open looks, but they couldn’t convert any rebounds against Rask. Rask stopped all 15 shots in the second period, including two Philadelphia chances on the power play. The Bruins defence did a fantastic job of shot blocking in front.
“Guys are willing to do whatever it takes. Our guys feel the importance of blocking shots,” Julien said.
Unlike the Flyers, Boston was able to convert at least one power-play chance. Recchi, a former Flyers star, scored his 54th career playoff goal to make it 3-1.
The Bruins never gave the Flyers a chance to get going in the first period. The Flyers seemed to overcome their faceoff woes when they won one, only to quickly lose the puck in the corner. Wheeler deflected the puck off his stick past startled goalie Brian Boucher to make it 1-1. Satan followed with a forehand-to-backhand goal that dropped the Flyers into a deep deficit.
Bergeron scored an empty-net goal for the Bruins with 1:52 left. The Bruins are 16-0 when they lead a best-of-seven series 3-0.
The Flyers, playing without injured forwards Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, failed on all four power-play opportunities. Boucher stopped 16 shots and appears doomed in his bid to lead the Flyers to the Eastern Conference finals as he did as a rookie 10 years ago.
“We really needed this game, and now we’ve got a big hole,” Boucher said. “Now it starts. Game 4. We’ve got to try and get that game.”
Hard to believe now this is the same Bruins team that lost 10 straight games in one stretch this season. They didn’t clinch a playoff berth until their next-to-last game.
None of that matters now.
NOTES: The Flyers are 31-31 in Game 3s. … The Flyers have never won a playoff series when trailing 0-2 and returning home to play Games 3 and 4. … The Bruins have a 30-12 career mark when winning Game 3 of a best-of-seven series.