Game 82 of the 2009-10 season: the Philadelphia Flyers earn a seventh seed and a playoff birth after one of the most nerve-wracking regular seasons in recent memory.
12 games and 8 wins later, they’re still in it.
And you’ll absolutely have to excuse my absence of articles during this entire series. You don’t mess with fate.
After all, it wasn’t hard to get caught up in all of this. We weren’t supposed to beat the Devils, and then of course we weren’t supposed to beat the Bruins. People quickly forgot that we were one of the Stanley Cup favorites at the start of the regular season just because we had to fight 82 long games while battling injuries, slumps, and coaching changes.
It’s pretty easy to say you believed in this team all along, but to have an unwavering faith so strong as to believe the Flyers could get this far is to be on par with the hockey gods themselves.
Judging by the violent storm that raged through the hockey area last night, those gods were none too pleased, but that couldn’t possibly stop the thousands partying around the Wach and in bars across the region.
The Flyers defied god.
There’s no other way to put it. They were in the NHL basement and climbed out to just barely earn a playoff birth after being a Cup favorite. They went down 3-0 against the Bruins in the second round only to find themselves in a 3-0 hole in game 7 after battling back.
I’m sure all of Philly knows the score; the fact that game 7 was a microcosm of the entire series.
What people don’t know is that game 7 was a microcosm of this team. Adversity after adversity has been thrown their way, but they keep surviving by the smallest of margins. When all hope is lost they shine the brightest.
So, I think it’s a good time to breakdown the efforts in this series. It’s impossible to write this and think of only a handful of names to mention.
Peter Laviolette: Think we’d be here with John Stevens? I think that timeout in game 7 after falling behind 3-0 was the epitome of Laviolette. He’s not going to let this team fail. He’s going to suck out of them every ounce of energy they can possibly give. He knows what it’s going to take to win a Stanley Cup. It’s not all about timeouts and yelling though. This team believes in him. He may not be the friendly Stevens’ type, but this team is willing to pull out all the stops for him. On top of that, his implementation of a system, possibly far more important than anything else he has brought to this team, has been swept slightly under the rug in favor of his title as “Time-out King.”
Mike Richards: There was a petition this week among Flyers’ fans on HFBoards.com to put at end to his captaincy debate once and for all. Mike Richards is our captain, now and forever. The media has constantly attacked him for his attitude when handling them. They claimed that a captain should not act like he has; should not step up to the Philly media that started a war for their own amusement. Not only has Richards been arguably the Flyers’ best postseason player next to Pronger, but his leadership has held this team together when all hope seemed lost time and time again. It’s arguable right now whether it was Gagne’s triumphant return or Richards’ hit on Krejci that turned this series on its head.
Chris Pronger: He has done nothing short of everything we hoped he would do in coming to Philadelphia. His play this series has been just as phenomenal. He may be the best postseason performer in the NHL since the lockout bar none. Throughout the series he was the rock in the back-end, and watching him out-perform the 6’9 Zdeno Chara was a treat. Pronger averaged 30 minutes of ice time a night (Yes, half a game each game), scored two goals, and assisted on four other goals. The impact he has had on this team can’t possibly be over-exaggerated in any way.
Simon Gagne: The man is playing with broken bones. He came back when the Flyers were down 3-0. They haven’t lost since, mostly thanks to Gagne’s 4 goals in 4 games. Yes, two of them were game winners; one in the OT facing a sweep in game 4 and another to close out the series last night. The longest tenured Flyer had to watch his team fall to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago. He wasn’t about to miss this one. He might have the most heart of anyone on the team other than Laperriere.
Danny Briere: How quietly has this man stepped up his game? You barely notice him unless you look at the postseason scoring. 15 points in 12 games; second only to Mike Richards. He leads our team with seven goals. Say what you want about his defensive problems when he’s playing down the middle, but the necessity line of Hartnell -- Briere -- Leino has been a major contributor in the absence of Carter. Briere is the reason.
Claude Giroux: This magical kid does it all. He kills penalties, makes dazzling assists, fights along the boards, and now comes complete with scoring abilities. His 5 goals are tied for second on the team with Richards. How about holding the play in the Bruins’ zone for 20 seconds while the clock slowly ticked down to victory in game 7? Combine the offensive creativity of Peter Forsberg, the defensive play of Simon Gagne, the heart of Mike Richards, and pack them all into 22-year-old, 5’11 frame. That’s Claude Giroux.
Kimmo Timonen/Braydon Coburn: Say what you will about Coburn’s early season, but he has been the man since March. He seems to finally be turning the corner and getting back into his 2007-08 form. If you’re one of the people that want to move him, then shame on you. While Carle has been off and on during his games with Pronger, Coburn and Timonen have been quietly the better pairing on the ice depending on Carle’s decision making any given night. Having two legitimate and deadly pairings is what sets the Flyers apart from every other team in the playoffs this year. These two deserve their due. Coburn in particular was an animal all series long.
Brian Boucher/Michael Leighton: They said it couldn’t be done. They scoffed at Brodeur vs. Boucher. They scoffed at Rask vs. Boucher. Then they scoffed at Rask vs. Leighton when Boucher went down. We would not be here now if it wasn’t for both of them, and though Boucher is done for the year, Leighton seems ready to carry the torch. In his first three playoff games ever, he has a 1.54 GAA and a 0.940 SV%. Boucher finished with a 2.33 GAA and a 0.920 SV%.
Scott Hartnell: He played 81 games this year and was the most undisciplined player for most of them. He was easily the single most yelled at Flyer through TV screens this year, while that distinct honor usually fell to Randy Jones. It was hardly the effort you’d expect out of him given his incredible year last season. When he wasn’t invisible, he was giving up turnovers, falling down, or taking a terrible penalty. It took 90 games before he finally woke up. In games 5, 6, and 7 he has been an absolutely changed man with 2 goals and an assist.
Ville Leino: What do you think of Paul Holmgren’s “trade deadline” now? Yes, we have this kid signed for 2010-11 as well. All those knocks about his effort have been thrown out the window. He’s not the best skater, but his stick-handling and forechecking have been crucial to the “necessity line.”
James vanRiemsdyk: He could not buy a playoff goal regardless of how well he played. It was hard to watch. He did everything he was asked and then some. His first playoff goal to spark the rally in game 7 was easily the biggest goal of this 21-year-old’s entire life.
Every player in this postseason deserves props for their effort. I won’t say anymore here. Just get ready for the Canadiens. I’ll have a breakdown for them coming up soon as well as a post about our new goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Enjoy this. You witnessed history. This was once in a lifetime.
History was made.