The Philadelphia Flyers
' 2009-10 season had more twists and turns than a pretzel factory and more ups and downs than a child's trampoline party.
No better example of that came in the team's conference semifinal series with the Boston Bruins
The Flyers, who only got into the playoffs with a final-day shootout win against the New York Rangers
, became the first team to advance to the second round with a five-game first-round series victory against the New Jersey Devils
. That meant a nine-day layoff, and the rust showed early.
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The Bruins won the first two games of the series in Boston, and then in Philadelphia for Game 3, Arron Asham
gave the Flyers the lead 2:32 into the game, but the Bruins scored the next four for a 4-1 win and a dominant 3-0 series lead.
Only two teams in NHL history had come back from a 3-0 series deficit -- the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1975 Islanders. Odds on the Flyers becoming the third team to do it weren't good, and got worse when Mark Recchi
's goal with 31.5 seconds left tied Game 4 at 3-3 and forced overtime.
Despite those long odds, the mood in the Philadelphia locker room surprisingly was positive.
"It's almost like we said we've got nothing to lose," said Gagne, who returned for Game 4 from a broken foot suffered in the first round. "Nobody expected us to get back. It was positive. We had the feeling it was going to happen."
Gagne made it happen, tipping Matt Carle
's pass under Tuukka Rask
at 14:40 of overtime to give the Flyers another breath.
They nearly had wind knocked out of them in Game 5. Just 4:31 into the second period, goalie Brian Boucher
was bowled over in the crease and had to leave the game with sprained ligaments in both knees.
That game, however, was the first one back for Michael Leighton
, who had missed two months with a sprained ankle. But Leighton was flawless, finishing the 4-0 shutout that made the Flyers' series deficit just one game.
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After a 2-1 win in Game 6, Philadelphia was poised to make history in Game 7.
"It's nice, but we haven't done anything yet," Mike Richards
said the day before the game. "We've fought all the way back to tie it, but we still need one more win. Obviously, it's a Game 7 and it's going to be tough. We have to be prepared for it."
They didn't look prepared early, though, as Boston bolted to a 3-0 lead just 14:10 into the game. After the third goal, coach Peter Laviolette
called time out, gathered his team at the bench and delivered a Rockne-esque speech that hit just the right note.
"The message was, 'Just score one goal,'" said Laviolette. "Get on the board, get in the game. That first goal, for me, was huge."
Moments later, James van Riemsdyk
scored that first goal, banking a shot off the stick of Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart
and past Rask. Scott Hartnell
's backhander 2:49 into the second made it a one-goal game, and then Danny Briere
's wraparound tied the game at 8:39 of the period.
Stunned Bruins players only could watch as Philadelphia's momentum continued to carry them. At 11:10 of the third, the Bruins were whistled for having too many men on the ice.
On the ensuing power play, Richards shot the puck into traffic that bounced to Gagne, who snapped a shot past Rask with 7:08 left in regulation for a 4-3 Flyers lead.
"After Game 1, and even after 3-0 tonight, we could have quit," Gagne said that night. "We just said, 'Let's put one in and you never know what happens.'"
The Flyers rode that wave all the way to the Cup Final. But without that total team effort in coming back against Boston, it never would have been possible.
"I'm really proud of them … I'm proud of the way they played," said Laviolette. "I'm proud of the way they represented the organization. I'm proud of the way they represented themselves."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK