(Philadelphia, PA) - The Flyers marched out of their dressing room and through the tunnel onto the ice right around 7 p.m. Friday night with the Rocky soundtrack bouncing off the Wachovia Center's walls.
It was perfect.
Just like Philadelphia's fictional fighting hero did in his smashmouth bouts with Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago, this city's hockey team has time and again this season peeled itself up off the mat and, with blood and sweat dripping, fought on.
We shouldn't be surprised they did it again in the face of a sweep Friday night.
|Philadelphia Flyers' Simon Gagne, left, scores the game-winning goal past Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask in overtime of Game 4 of a second-round NHL playoff hockey series, Friday, May 7, 2010, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 5-4. (AP Photo/Bruce Bennett,Pool) |
For the second time in a month, the Flyers were one shot away from seeing their season end on home ice. It was overtime and then a shootout against the New York Rangers on April 11, the final day of the regular season, and overtime Friday night against the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal.
They're still kicking after Friday's 5-4 victory because, like Rocky, they don't know what it means to surrender.
"We've been faced with adversity more than one time this season," defenseman Matt Carle
, who recorded four assists and a plus-5 rating in Game 4, told NHL.com. "I was having dinner with my fiancé last night and all I kept saying was, 'Here we go again.' "
The Flyers were beaten down in early December. A 13-11-1 start for a team that was supposed to compete for the Stanley Cup wasn't good enough, and it cost a good hockey man, John Stevens, his job.
Peter Laviolette came in to right the ship -- except not a whole lot went the right way.
Ray Emery went down with a hip injury, leaving a hole in net. Michael Leighton admirably filled it until he went down with an ankle injury, pinning the immediate future of this team on Brian Boucher, the third goalie and a guy who hadn't sniffed much success in the NHL since the turn of the century.
"When you go through adversity, you see what you got as far as character in the room and what guys are made of," Boucher said after making 33 saves Friday night.
Boucher answered the call, especially on that near fateful Sunday when he stopped 24 shots before stuffing Olli Jokinen in the shootout to clinch a playoff berth. Philadelphia was 3-7-1 over its last 11 games before Boucher made that season-changing shootout save.
The Flyers went from drowning to doing laps in the deep end in one skills competition, and they steamrolled to a first-round win over the New Jersey Devils that didn't seem nearly as hard as it should have been.
"It's a special group," captain Mike Richards was saying after Friday's win. "We have been counted out more than once this year, and we always seem to bounce back and answer the bell. Tonight was one of those things. We kept on playing, kept on playing, kept on playing. We were just relentless and we got that last goal."
Simon Gagne got it. How fitting.
He was considered done after breaking his foot in Game 4 against the Devils. The same fate in the same game crushed Jeff Carter's season. And Ian Laperriere
, this city's new poster boy for toughness, was also wiped out for the rest of the playoffs after using his head to block a shot in Game 5.
Laperriere has, of all injuries, a brain contusion. He said he would have played if it was only a concussion.
Gagne, who knows a thing or two about concussions, peeled himself up off the scrap heap Friday and played 16 painful minutes in regulation. He didn't play another shift until more than 14 minutes had passed in overtime, but when he touched the ice he made all the pain go away within 30 seconds by scoring the new biggest goal of the Flyers season that won't die.
"This is the time of year you're playing through injuries, and for him to come back is obviously a big thing for us," Richards said. "He's one of our leaders, a guy that has been here a long time and a guy that we can count on a lot. He answered."
No, the Flyers answered, again.
So far they've survived a coaching change, inner turmoil, a goaltender carousel and a rash of injuries to get to Game 5 Monday night in Boston.
Should they be there? Probably not. But Rocky shouldn't have knocked out the Russian, either. He had no business being in the ring with a champ like Apollo and he was outmuscled at least 2-to-1 by Mr. T's best character ever.
Boston's once impenetrable three-game lead is down to a still robust two, but the Flyers are not done fighting. They won't be until the final bell rings and they're the ones lying on the mat.
Don't count to 10 just yet.
"They still have to win one more game to beat us," Gagne said, "and we're still alive."