Saturday, May 15, 2010

History will be made ... and was

You know who's happy right now? The Capitals and their fans. Because when it comes to epic NHL playoff collapses, specifically from the 2010 season, nothing compares to the double epic fail known as the Boston Bruins.

1942. 1975. 2004. The only times in major American sports history that a team lost a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games. That last year came in baseball.

Two. The number of times an NHL team lost a three-goal lead in a Game 7.

Congratulations, Boston. You've added one to both those lists.

Simon Gagne's return to the Philadelphia lineup proved far more valuable than Marc Savard's return to Boston's, as Gagne scored the tiebreaking goal on the power play late in the third period and the Flyers capped off two remarkable comebacks, defeating the Bruins, 4-3 in Game 7 and the series. It was Gagne's second game-winning goal since returning to action in Game 4 and his fourth goal overall in four games for the series.

Philadelphia, the last team to qualify for the NHL playoffs, advances improbably not just to the Eastern Conference Final but has home-ice advantage against Montreal.

Beantown was hopping (see what I did there? Beans? Jumping beans? Hopping? Anyway) after Milan Lucic scored his second goal of the game for a 3-0 Bruins lead. Michael Ryder's power play goal early on put Boston ahead by one, then Lucic struck on the man-advantage for a 2-0 lead before 10 minutes were gone.

For a strong defensive team with an impressive young goalie in Tuukka Rask, protecting that three-goal lead shouldn't have been a big problem.

Instead, Boston's weak overall offense proved to aid its undoing. After getting 13 shots during that three-goal outburst in 14 minutes, the Bruins' attack faltered and finished with just 25 shots.

Conversely, the Flyers woke up and showed the urgency they did in the three previous games. James van Riemsdyk scored something of a fluke goal late in the first period to stop the bleeding. His shot was heading wide of the cage, but Rask stuck his leg out and actually helped deflect the puck behind him into the goal. It was the kind of charmed goal that gives a team hope.

Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette might as well be called Carnac. He said during an in-game interview that now that his team was playing its game, they would win.

When Scott Hartnell backhanded home a rebound to cut the deficit to 3-2, the Flyers' quest became easier. Then Daniel Briere continued his torrid pace by converting a wrap-around, aided by a Bruin's skate, and suddenly it was 3-3.

Bruins fans were swallowing their tongues.

Then they collectively had a flashback to 1979, when a too many men on the ice penalty contributed to a playoff defeat in another Game 7, that one against Montreal in the Stanley Cup semifinals. Guy Lafleur tied the game with 74 seconds left in the third period and Yvon Lambert won the game in overtime for the Canadiens.

This time, it was Savard and Vladimir Sobotka who got their signs mixed up during a line change and Boston was whistled for the bench penalty.

Enter Gagne, who collected a loose puck in the right circle and snapped a quick wrist shot past Rask's blocker hand on the ensuing power play for what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Boston couldn't muster the offense necessary to generate the tying goal, and the collapse was complete.

Michael Leighton shook off a shaky start and finished with 22 saves for the victory.

Both conference finals begin Sunday.

Turning point: van Riemsdyk's goal.

Key play: The bench penalty on Boston.

Stats of the night
159 - Number of NHL teams, in 162 tries, to win a seven-game series after being ahead 3-0.

9 - Starting with van Riemsdyk's goal and including Hartnell's and Briere's (at 2:49 and 8:39, respectively, of the second period), the Flyers had nine straight shots in the game.

Quote of the night
None. Jack Edwards was unavailable.

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