Gagne leads Flyers in colossal comeback

May, 14, 2010

More than 31 years after Don Cherry's Boston Bruins were called for too many men on the ice and squandered a shot at a long-awaited Stanley Cup, the 2010 edition became just the third team in NHL history to lose a series after winning the first three games thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers' 4-3 win in Friday night's Game 7.

What's worse, the Bruins owned a 3-0 first-period lead Friday night and looked to be cruising to their first conference finals since 1992, only to see the Flyers tie it by early in the second period. The game seemed to be headed for overtime in the second half of the third when the fateful call came: too many men on the ice against the Bruins.

The Flyers managed just one shot on the power play, but Simon Gagne made it count. He snapped a loose puck past Tuukka Rask to give the Flyers their first lead of the night and vaulted them into the history books.

As the Flyers celebrated their second trip to the conference finals in the past three seasons, how many of those packed into TD Garden wondered silently about the 1979 classic?

In that seventh and deciding game against the defending Stanley Cup champs from Montreal, the Bruins held a 4-3 lead with less than four minutes to go in the third period. Moments later, the Bruins, coached by Cherry, were slapped with the too many men penalty. With 74 seconds left in the game, Guy Lafleur blasted a shot past Gilles Gilbert to tie it at 4. Midway through the first overtime, Yvan Lambert converted a Mario Tremblay pass and it was over. The Canadiens went on to win their fourth straight Stanley Cup and Cherry went on to a lifetime of colorful jackets and frequent reminders of his coaching gaffe.

With the Bruins trying not to allow the Flyers to join the 1942 Leafs and 1975 Islanders as the only teams to ever survive a 3-0 series deficit, they too looked like they were in control of their own destiny and would entertain Montreal to start the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night.

By the 14:10 mark of the first period, Michael Ryder and Milan Lucic (two goals) scored to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead. But the Flyers, as they have all season and certainly in this series, defied the outward idea that they were cooked. James van Riemsdyk scored late in the first and Scott Hartnell atoned for an early high-sticking penalty that cost the Flyers a goal to make it 3-2. Danny Briere's wraparound tied the score before the midpoint of the second.

The Boston crowd was suddenly nervous, just as we saw crowds in Washington and Pittsburgh grow uncomfortably silent when they watched Game 7s slip away from their teams earlier this postseason.

It was fitting Gagne again played the role of the hero. He returned to this series after suffering a broken foot in the first round. He scored the overtime winner in Game 4 to keep the Bruins from sweeping the Flyers. On Friday, he scored the goal that sent the Bruins into a long summer of wondering how things fell apart and set a date with the Canadiens for Sunday night at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. Once upon a time, Gagne was a Canadian Olympian, but injuries took their toll on his career; yet there he was in this series, delivering as he did in the prime of his career.

The Flyers have gone through goaltenders at a dizzying rate and still managed to end up one goal better than the Bruins, whose goaltending looked to be a significant edge when this series started with Rask shining as one of the top rookie netminders in the league.

It didn't work out that way, though.

"We've been through a lot together," Philadelphia captain Mike Richards told reporters in Boston. "Our mindset was that if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging."

Expect a heroes' welcome for Gagne and the rest of the Flyers, a team that never folded to what must have been an irresistible urge to pack it in.

As for the Bruins, they become the anti-Boston Red Sox with this collapse. Apart from the three aforementioned NHL teams, the Red Sox are the only other pro team to erase a 3-0 series deficit in a best-of-seven series. They defeated the New York Yankees en route to a World Series win in 2004. We're guessing the Bruins won't be remembered in the same fashion in Boston after this one, and they shouldn't be.

In the same way fans are wondering how teams like Washington and Pittsburgh could be standing on the sidelines at the start of the conference finals, the Bruins' inability to close the deal in four straight outings against a Flyers team that was minus its top scorer (Jeff Carter) and starting netminder (at least at the start of the series) is a colossal embarrassment.

Scott Burnside

ESPN Senior Writer



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