Flyers coach Peter Laviolette saw it coming midway through the second period. Philadelphia was still trailing at the time, but Laviolette sensed the tide had turned in this game much like it had done earlier in the series.
So it really was with confidence rather than arrogance that he promised a television interviewer during a play stoppage Philadelphia would win. And the Flyers did with a comeback that in and of itself may have been more impressive than their overall rebound in the Eastern Conference semifinal.
That’s no mean feat either considering the Flyers became only the third NHL team in history and only the fourth professional team to advance after losing the first three in a best-of-seven. But Philadelphia took it one step further by coming back from a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 to win 4-3. And they did it on the road too, which is probably the least surprising aspect of this because the visitors have won the three other Game 7s in these playoffs.
To call it a remarkable resurgence on the Flyers part would certainly be accurate, but it would tell only half the story of a game and a series that saw the Bruins come apart at the seams and suffer one of the worst meltdowns in recent memory. It’s the kind of thing that will linger a long time for this team, especially since this is the second consecutive season Boston has been eliminated in a Game 7 of the second round at home.
Last season was painful because Boston had finished atop the East and had swept its opening round convincingly. But this loss was shattering and underscores just how poorly this team handled adversity. Truth is that while Boston was eliminated on this night, it was done after Game 5 when it needed a big bounce back from an overtime loss in the previous outing.
The Bruins didn’t end this in four games, but they were still in control coming home and they let it slip away by coming up flat. It shifted the momentum, and apparently made the Flyers believe and Boston fear that the tide really had turned.
The disparity in the confidence level became most apparent in the deciding game. Boston owned the first 15 minutes, playing aggressive and physical hockey at both ends, getting the defensemen involved and threatening to run the Flyers back to Philadelphia by taking a 3-0 lead. But obviously they didn’t intimidate Philadelphia.
If the Flyers were disoriented or simply shell shocked by the Bruins best effort in a week, they regained their bearings quickly. Laviolette called a time out, rookie James van Riemsdyk’s scored a couple of minutes later on a shot Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask misplayed, and suddenly the seeds of doubt had been planted in Boston’s heads. After outshooting the Flyers 14-5 in the first period, Boston inexplicably sat back in the second let Philadelphia dictate the pace, and with Daniel Briere leading the way by getting a goal and an assist, the Flyers tied the game before the period was half over.
Briere actually was one of the offensive heroes of the series for Philadelphia, but the most important one turned out to be Simon Gagne, who missed the first three games with a broken foot. Gagne was treading gingerly when he returned for Game 4, but scored the overtime winner and then added two more in Game 5.
For good measure he finished off Boston with a power play marker in third period of Game 7. There were still about seven minutes left, but the Bruins were done, beaten as much by themselves as the Flyers in this series.
That doesn’t bode well for Claude Julien’s future. He was last season’s coach of the year when Boston finished first in the East, but the voting was done before the Bruins lost at home to Carolina in round two. Lose that way twice in a row, especially when the second time comes after your team has a 3-0 stranglehold in the series, and there has to be questions about whether he is still the right guy to create the necessary mindset.
Right now that’s debatable.