BOSTON -- The NHL vowed that history would be made in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On Friday night, it was.
Simon Gagne capped an improbable rally for the Philadelphia Flyers when he broke a 3-3 tie via the power play with 7:08 remaining in regulation in a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal at TD Garden.
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Not only did the Flyers become the first team in 35 years to win a best-of-7 series after losing the first three games, but they also rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to win this decisive showdown. They have yet to lose since Gagne returned from a foot injury in time for Game 4.
"After Game 1, and even after 3-0 tonight, we could have quit," Gagne said. "We just said, 'Let's put one in and you never know what happens.' We got a couple of goals to tie the game in the second, and after that the game was right there for both teams. Fortunately, they took a penalty and we were able to score on the power play."
Not since 1991 had a team surrendered a three-goal lead and lost in a Game 7, when the Calgary Flames suffered a 5-4 overtime defeat against the Edmonton Oilers. The New York Islanders were the last team to rally from an 0-3 deficit to win a series, in 1975 against the Pittsburgh Penguins; the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were the only other team to do so.
"We've been resilient all year, whether it was injuries or putting ourselves in a bad position in the standings," captain Mike Richards said. "We've been through a lot together. Our mindset was that if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging."
Philadelphia, the No. 7 seed in the East, will have home-ice advantage in the conference final against the Montreal Canadiens, who upset the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in back-to-back rounds. The series gets under way on Sunday night at what will surely be a raucous Wachovia Center.
Michael Leighton, who returned from injury in this series to replace an injured Brian Boucher, settled down after a rough start and finished with 22 saves. Tuukka Rask stopped 23 shots in the loss.
"I'm really proud of them … I'm proud of the way they played," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I'm proud of the way they represented the organization. I'm proud of the way they represented themselves."
It truly was a loss of epic proportions for the Bruins, who held a 3-0 lead in this series and a 3-0 lead in Game 7. They couldn't hang on to either.
"The killer instinct was missing," forward Mark Recchi admitted. "What are you going to do? It's over and we've got a long summer to think about it. It's disappointing."
Michael Ryder gave Boston the start it needed as he scored on the power play 5:27 into the game. Just eight seconds after Flyers forward Scott Hartnell was penalized for high sticking, Ryder collected Zdeno Chara's rebound at the right circle and ripped it past Leighton for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Milan Lucic doubled the Bruins' lead with another power-play goal at 9:02. A high-sticking penalty on Danny Briere gave Boston its second man advantage of the night, and the Bruins capitalized again as Lucic redirected Dennis Wideman's shot past Leighton to make it 2-0. It was Lucic's fourth goal of the postseason.
Lucic notched his second goal of the night at 14:10 of the first. With the teams at even strength, Lucic stripped Darroll Powe of the puck near the Bruins' blue line and started a 2-on-1 with Marc Savard the other way. Lucic skated with the puck into the Flyers' zone and fired a wrist shot from the right circle past Leighton as the Bruins grabbed a 3-0 lead and seemed destined to advance to Round 3.
"We started the way we wanted to start it," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "We had lots of energy. We got a 3-0 lead.
"The bottom line is, we had a 3-0 lead in the series. We had a 3-0 lead tonight. We blew both. There's no excuses. We have to take the responsibility that goes with it. Everyone. We had four tries at it and we weren't able to do it."
The surrendering of the lead began when James van Riemsdyk scored his first career playoff goal at 17:10. After outworking Miroslav Satan for the puck along the boards, van Riemsdyk wristed a shot from the left circle that went off Mark Stuart's stick and trickled through Rask's pads.
"The message was, 'Just score one goal,'" Laviolette said. "Get on the board, get in the game. That first goal, for me, was huge."
The Flyers continued on the comeback trail as Hartnell scored just 2:49 into the second period to make it 3-2. With the teams at even strength, Ville Leino came out from behind the net and backhanded a shot that Rask denied. But the goaltender left a juicy rebound, and Hartnell was there to roof it over him for his second goal of the playoffs.
"We didn't have that same jump. We backed off maybe a little bit," Rask said. "They came at us pretty hard too. They played good hockey."
Briere tied it at 8:31 on his seventh goal of the playoffs. Briere, who expressed his excitement for this Game 7 after the morning skate, took a nifty feed from Hartnell and sent one from behind the net that went off of Matt Hunwick's skate and past Rask to make it 3-3. Philadelphia had the first seven shots of the second period.
"I've said it all year and you guys laughed at me when I said I thought we had a great playoff team," Briere said. "I just had a feeling that if we were able to start creating our own bounces, then we were able to come back in the series. I don't know if the other guys believed it, but I certainly did."
The Flyers had another potential goal waved off with 5:14 left in the second period, when both Richards and Arron Asham whacked at a loose puck in the crease. But replays concluded that it never crossed the goal line and the game remained tied.
Each team hit the goal post in the third period. Chris Pronger's rocket from the point nearly gave the Flyers the lead early in the period before Lucic was denied a hat trick with about nine minutes left.
"We just sat back," Lucic said. "We didn't keep going and that's why we lost."
The Flyers capitalized on a too-many-men penalty at 11:10 of the third, as Gagne collected Richards' broken pass in the slot and roofed it over Rask's right shoulder to give Philadelphia a 4-3 lead. It was his 27th career playoff tally and one that will eat at Julien and the Bruins all summer long.
"They've been calling it all playoffs … nothing there has changed," Julien said. "We had a player come to the bench and had his stick up like he wanted to change. He changed his mind and we had the next centerman jumping on. They call those. We'll leave it at that."
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Shift of the Game: Not to be denied from tying the game, Scott Hartnell used some nifty stickwork to create Danny Briere's game-tying goal, which came at 8:31 of the second period. Hartnell's remarkable backhand pass at the Bruins' blue line allowed Briere to get the puck behind the net, where he beat Tuukka Rask on a wraparound to make it 3-3.
1 - 0 BOS
2 - 0 BOS
3 - 0 BOS
James van Riemsdyk
3 - 1 BOS
3 - 2 BOS
3 - 3 Tie
4 - 3 PHI