PHILADELPHIA -- There were three games left in the season, games that had become must-wins for the Flyers.
They are the games players live for, when their entire season is on the line; moments they live for.
And Scottie Upshall was out.
Coach John Stevens benched him to send a message about just how he expected the scrappy forward to play.
"He felt I could elevate my game a little more to be a dependable player and a go-to guy," Upshall said. "Sitting out a game against the Penguins with three games left, knowing we have to win, it was really tough. I wanted to get back in there."
Sometimes a trip to the press box can help a player see the game from a different angle and gain a new perspective.
What Upshall learned was the view from the ice is a lot better.
"This game is so great," he said. "Getting to watch it from the stands is not where you want to be. Especially when I feel like I can contribute and I can help."
He returned to the lineup for the next game a new man. With the Flyers needing a pair of wins to sew up a playoff spot, he scored an insurance goal in a 3-0 win against the New Jersey Devils, and followed that with the first goal in a season-closing 2-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
More than that, he's remained like fingernails on a blackboard to play against in the postseason as his club has taken a surprising three-games-to-one lead against the Washington Capitals.
Playing on a line with 6-foot-3, 200-pound Jeff Carter and 6-3, 230-pound Mike Knuble, Upshall -- generously listed at 6-foot and 197 pounds -- is the first player in on the forecheck and throws his body around with reckless abandon.
In Game 3, he goaded Washington defenseman Mike Green into taking a slashing penalty and a fighting major, earning the Caps star seven minutes in the penalty box. He's used his speed and tenacity with the puck to draw other penalties.
In the Flyers' 4-3 double-overtime win over the Caps in Game 4 Thursday night, he held a puck in at the blue line and provided strong support along the wall to set up Carter's game-opening goal. Later, his control of the puck behind the Washington net led to Knuble's game-winning score.
"Scottie's just being a pain out there," Knuble said. "He's flying around, he's such a great skater. Just tenaciousness -- he's the first guy on the forecheck a lot, responsible defensively. He's really establishing his identity as a player. You're talking about a guy who can play offensively, who's great at getting pucks out and coming out with big hits. He's a guy that's a nuisance to the other team."
But only the other team; he's avoiding the bad penalties that plagued his game down the stretch.
"I run around sometimes. I get a little carried away," Upshall admitted. "I try to be disciplined. Not being the biggest guy, I need to step in and play hard and just finish checks. That's the part of my game that got me to this level. I've always been that player. Right now I'm where I want to be."
And that's on the ice, not in the stands.
"Obviously he wasn't happy," Carter said about the benching, "but he worked hard and got back in -- and I don't think he'll be sitting out again any time soon."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.