In both 2003 and 2004, the Philadelphia Flyers waged playoff wars with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The first series went the full seven games. The second went six hard-fought matches. Both times, the Flyers prevailed.
On May 4, 2004, the Flyers clinched their Eastern Conference semifinal series as they claimed a 3-2 overtime win in Toronto in Game Six. After the Flyers built a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Radovan Somik and Jeremy Roenick, they were unable to put the Leafs away in the third period. Tallies by Karel Pilar and Mats Sundin knotted the score at 2-2 and sent the match to overtime.
The extra frame saw back-and-forth action played at a breakneck pace. Both teams had several near-miss scoring opportunities, as both Robert Esche (34 saves on 36 shots) and Ed Belfour (22 saves on 25 shots) came up big in goal for their respective teams.
Toronto blitzed the Flyers for 90 nerve-racking seconds Esche turned the puck over to Alexei Ponikarovsky, whose shot hit a skate and deflected into the corner. The Flyers were unable clear the zone. Esche made a brilliant skate save on Karel Pilar and then got defensive help from Simon Gagne to tie up Ponikarovsky's stick. Finally, Esche stoned Joe Nieuwendyk's stuff in attempt near the post.
Play finally went back the other way. Michael Handzus fired a puck that went around the glass. Sami Kapanen went to play the puck about 20 feet inside the right point. Toronto forward Darcy Tucker lined him up and crushed the tiny Finn was a devastating open-ice body check - shoulder-to-side-of-head - and sent him sprawling to the ice.
Woozy, Kapanen had enough presence of mind to realize he needed to get back to the bench, 25 feet away. He turned over from his back to his knees, trying to grab his stick and rise. He fell. Kapanen rose again and tried to skate. He fell yet again. It took four efforts to get close enough to the bench for team captain and good friend Keith Primeau to be able to hook him in close enough for teammate Mattias Timander and trainer John Worley to assist Kapanen onto the bench.
In the meantime, the Leafs were attacking in the Flyers' zone. Esche stopped a Robert Reichel blast and Handzus helped prevent Tie Domi from getting a wide-open chance to win the game. Toronto maintained control until Alexei Zhamnov, just off the bench, disrupted an Aki Berg shot attempt from behind.
The Flyers counterattacked on a 2-on-1, with Mark Recchi picking up the puck and rushing the other way with John LeClair joining him on the left wing. From the right hash marks, Recchi elected to shoot the puck. Belfour make a blocker save. LeClair was unable to reach the rebound.
Now the Leafs were off to the races again. Sundin tried to move laterally near the Flyers blueline but Zhamnov made his second strong defensive play of the shift, neutralizing Sundin's stick and poking the puck free to rookie defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Both teams started line changes.
Pitkanen passed the puck off the right side boards, where Jeremy Roenick (just off the bench a moment earlier) claimed the puck and rushed full speed back into the Toronto end, joined by Tony Amonte on yet another 2-on-1 rush for Philadelphia.
Reaching the hash-marks, Roenick surprised former Chicago teammate Belfour - who expected Roenick to either look to shoot just over his pads or to dish to Amonte - with a high shot into the top portion of the net. Just like that, at 7:39 of overtime, the game and the series were over. Raucous throughout OT, the Air Canada Centre crowd fell dead silent.
May 4: Through the Years
- 1975: The Flyers open a three games to zero lead in the Stanley Cup semifinals with a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders. Reggie Leach's goal in the opening minute of the third period stands as the lone goal. Bernie Parent earns a 14-save shutout.
- 1976: Philadelphia takes a three games to one lead over the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup semifinals with a 4-2 win at the Spectrum. Battling back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits following a pair of first-period goals by tough guy forward Terry O'Reilly, the Flyers get goals by Mel Bridgman, Reggie Leach (10th of the playoffs), Orest Kindrachuk and Joe Watson. Wayne Stephenson (27 saves on 29 shots) is sharper in goal than Gerry Cheevers (21 saves on 25 shots).
- 1980: A four-goal performance by Bill Barber keys a 5-3 Flyers road victory as they take a two games to one lead over the Minnesota North Stars in the Stanley Cup semifinals.
- 1987: In Game One of the Wales Conference Finals between the host Flyers and Montreal Canadiens, Ilkka Sinisalo's goal at 9:11 of overtime sends the Flyers to a 4-3 win after Derrick Smith ties the game with 3:51 remaining in the third period. Sinisalo's game-winner is his second goal of the game. Brian Propp adds a goal and an assist, while Peter Zezel has two assists and Ron Hextall makes 33 saves on 36 shots.
- 1996: Led by a three-point effort by Eric Lindros, who scores the game-winning goal at 9:11 of the third period, the Flyers even up their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Florida Panthers at one game apiece. Karl Dykhuis and John LeClair also tally for the home side. The Flyers pepper John Vanbiesbrouck with 47 shots. Ron Hextall stops 24 of 26 shots.
- 2000: Ending the most epic playoff game in Flyers' history, Keith Primeau cuts in at the right circle and elevates a perfect shot over Pittsburgh Penguins' goaltender Ron Tugnutt (70 saves on 72 shots) at 12:01 of quintuple overtime. The goal, scored after 152 minutes and one second of hockey, forges a 2-1victory for the visiting Flyers and knots the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece. Brian Boucher stops 57 of 58 shots, yielding only an early first period goal by Alexei Kovalev. John LeClair's disputed power play goal at 4:47 of the third period is upheld after a lengthy video review to determine if he played the puck with a high stick. Philadelphia went 1-for-5 on the power play and 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. During overtime intermissions, some players needed to receive IV fluids to avoid dehydration, while others ate pizza brought to the locker room. Flyers forward Keith Jones tried to lighten the tension by cracking jokes. As one overtime spilled into another and another, players for both sides who had gotten sparing ice time in regulation started to get more and more frequent shifts by necessity, and became the most effective players on the ice.
May 4: Flyers birthdays
- Depth defenseman Kent Huskins was born on May 4, 1979 in Almonte, Ontario.
- Original Flyers forward Leon Rochefort was born May 4, 1939 in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec.
- Former Philadelphia Flyers, Hershey Bears and Philadelphia Phantoms defenseman and subsequent Phantoms and Flyers head coach John Stevens was born May 4, 1966 in Campbellton, New Brunswick, and raised in Turkey Point in Norfolk County, Ontario.
- Selected by the Flyers with the second overall pick of the 2007 NHL Draft, James van Riemsdyk was born May 4, 1989, in Middletown, NJ.