That's the sigh of relief heard throughout Flyers-land after the Flyers beat Buffalo, 4-2, in Game Three of their opening round playoff series.
In their previous game, aka "The Nightmare in Buffalo," the Flyers were embarrassed in an 8-2 trouncing. This viewer was reminded of the final game of the 2001 Flyers-Buffalo series when the Flyers were humiliated by the Sabres 8-0. That was the only game in the Flyers history when I thought the team quit.
The current Flyers did not quit in Game Two. Most of them continued playing hard. They were just totally outplayed.
That was the sound heard throughout Flyers-land as TV remotes changed channels when the orange-and-black fell behind Buffalo 6-1. The only viewers left were people who enjoy watching train wrecks.
Crushed Flyers fans were expecting more from Ken Hitchcock's team following their overtime loss in Game One. Goaltender Robert Esche was spectacular, stopping 55 shots. His performance was one of the best ever in Flyers history. The Flyers rallied from a 2-0 deficit before bowing in OT, 3-2.
Based on the opening game, hopes were high that the Flyers could build on their effort. Instead, the swift Sabres scored five goals in the first period, leaving the Flyers bewildered.
One of the few Flyers highlights in Game Two was Esche borrowing from the Ron Hextall highlight reel.
Attempting to ignite his teammates, Esche skated toward center ice and went after Buffalo's Derek Roy after he retaliated against Peter Forsberg.
Afterward, a candid Esche said he wasn't looking for a fight. He just wanted to fire up his reeling teammates. "I didn't know who (Roy) was," Esche said. "I was just trying to spark the team and get something going. Obviously, it didn't do that. I don't think it did anything."
With Peter Forsberg finally playing like "Peter the Great" and Esche turning in a strong shot-stopping performance, the Flyers rebounded in Game Three. As Hitchcock likes to say, it was a good character game for the Flyers. That the Flyers recovered from an Ales Kotalik goal just 2:37 into the game was a positive sign for a team that appeared ready for the Game Two debacle to be swept into Lake Erie.
Brian Savage's shorthanded goal just under four minutes later tied the game and had the Wachovia Center rocking.
Hitchcock, who reads the fans and the media as well as any coach I have ever covered, knew exactly what the fans were thinking after Kotalik's goal. "Here we go again" was Hitchcock's accurate guess on what the fans were thinking.
When the Flyers outshot the Sabres 17 to 9 in the second period to hold a 3-1 lead, I thought that maybe the Flyers finally watched some game tapes and heard TV analysts Gary Dornhoefer and Steve Coates encouraging them to shoot the puck on the net, because you never know what will happen.
Neither of Forsberg's two goals will be candidates for the Flyers' season highlight video. The first goal deflected in off the skate of defenseman Jay McKee and the second off goaltender Ryan Miller's back. But if the Flyers wear down the smaller Sabres and win the series, no one will care that the goals weren't classics.
That the Flyers only managed three shots on goal in the third period compared to 10 by Buffalo indicated that they were thinking too much about protecting their lead.
The Flyers are still being whistled for too many bad penalties. Example: Petr Nedved taking consecutive penalties in the third period. What was a veteran like Nedved thinking? Oh, he wasn't thinking. Or Mike Knuble, a productive player, was penalized in the first period for roughing in the Sabres zone after a Buffalo player passed the puck. Fortunately for the Flyers, the Sabres didn't score on the power play.
Regardless of how the series turns out, if the NHL insists that referees call "touch fouls," as they are known in basketball, Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke has some work to do in the offseason. He'll need to find players with more speed, especially on the blue line.
The atmosphere in the building in Game Three was electrifying. The Flyers don't need me to sell tickets, but being in an NHL arena for a meaningful playoff game is one of the best experiences in sports. Fans wearing orange "Crush Time" T-shirts added color and enthusiasm. The "God Bless America" duet of Lauren Hart and Kate Smith should have given everyone a tingle, particularly those of us who were present when Kate sang her signature song live.
With the starting players lined up on the ice during the duet, I turned to the Daily News' Ed Barkowitz and said, "I'll bet the Sabres are wondering who ol' Kate is." Ed pointed toward the Flyers on the ice and said, "They're probably wondering the same thing."
Odds 'n Ends
Peeve of the series: Playing Brian Campbell's crushing, but clean, hit on R.J. Umberger several times on the HSBC Arena screen while the crowd roared. A woozy Umberger was lying on the ice, perhaps seriously injured. Wasn't there one supervisor in the arena with common sense who should have said, "Knock off the replays of the hit?"
Devils looking scary
The condensed schedule following the Olympics damaged the overall quality of play in the NHL, although it didn't seem to bother the New Jersey Devils. They skated into the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak.
The way the Devils are dominating the Rangers is not good news for other playoff teams. The Devils are playing as if they are planning another victory parade in the parking lot in the scenic Continental Airlines Arena.
What's in a name?
I know times have changed and teams need corporate sponsorship for their arenas. But some of these arena names lack, shall we say, pizzazz.
I'm thinking of the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence. I've often wondered how the Providence College basketball players feel when they tell people their home court is the Dunkin Donuts Arena. "Well, the jelly donuts are tasty."
Shouldn't some brave executive at HSBC headquarters have spoken up and suggested that "Maybe HSBC isn't a really catchy name for an arena?"
Those who aren't tuned in on high finance wouldn't know that HSBC is an acronym for the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. HSBC's North American headquarters is in Buffalo.
Remember Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo (affectionately known as "the Aud")? The Forum in Montreal, Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver? Ah, those were the days.
At least we still have Madison Square Garden in New York, the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Saddledome in Calgary…wait, now it's the Pengrowth Saddledome. Arrrgh!
Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.
Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.
He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.