With just over 7 minutes left to play in the decisive 7th game of their NHL playoff series at the TD Garden in Boston, Philadelphia Flyers’ winger Simon Gagne, himself an inspirational comeback story, beat Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask for a power play goal to put Philly on top by a 4-3 score.
That the Flyers were even still playing hockey on May 15th after the predicament in which they found themselves just 10 days earlier was a minor miracle. What they accomplished by holding on to that 4-3 lead for a game and series victory was nothing short of a major Philly sports miracle.
On May 5th, the Bruins defeated the Flyers in Philadelphia by a 4-1 margin to take an overwhelming 3 games to none lead in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup playoff series. Two days later, the Bruins took the Flyers into overtime, needing just a goal to sweep a Philly squad that had been inconsistent all season long out of the post-season.
Boston would not get that overtime goal to win the series. In fact, they would never get any goal to win the series. That night, Gagne returned from a broken foot that had kept him off the ice for the first three losses to score the overtime game-winner for the Flyers, sending the series back to Boston. Most felt it was just a temporary reprieve for Philly, and that the Bruins would put the series away back on their home ice in the 5th game.
Back in Boston, Flyers’ goalies Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton stood tall in the visitors net, combining to shut out the Bruins by a 4-0 margin. The Flyers’ complete dominance had taken the hometown crowd out of the game, and left them disheartened at having missed a chance to witness their team clinch the series on home ice. Still up though by a 3-2 margin in the series, surely the Bruins would regroup to finish off the Flyers back in Philly. And even in a worst-case scenario, the decisive 7th game would be back in Boston where the Bruins couldn’t possibly lose.
In Philly for the 6th game, Leighton would get his first playoff start. The former backup had bailed out the Flyers regular season, but an injury had knocked him out, and Boucher had stepped in to lead the Flyers into post-season action. Boucher had made the big save in the shootout victory in the season’s final game that had allowed the Flyers to get into the playoffs. He had been marvelous in the Flyers opening round upset of the New Jersey Devils. But in that 5th game in Boston he had suffered an injury and had to leave the game. Luckily for the Flyers, Leighton was just returning that night from his own injury.
Leighton showed no nerves and was solid in the Flyers net, and goals by captain Mike Richards and Danny Briere led the home team to a 2-1 victory that evened the series up at 3 games apiece. Only two teams in NHL history and three in major North American professional sports had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to actually win the series. It had not happened in the NHL playoffs in 35 years. This was the history that Philly would try to make happen back in Boston.
In the penultimate Game 7, the hometown Bruins stormed out behind their boisterous fans at the Garden, pouncing on the Flyers for an early lead and extending that lead out to 3-0. Surely here was the final stake in the Flyers hearts. But these Flyers kept coming, kept playing the game hard, and incredibly worked their way back to a 3-3 tie. It was then that Gagne struck for the goal that silenced the Garden.
The Bruins made one last charge at avoiding their historic meltdown. In the final minute, they stormed the Flyers end of the ice, looking for the equalizer, trying to take the heart out of the Flyers with a stunner and then steal the series back for themselves. But it was not to be for the home team. The visiting Flyers held on for the 4-3 win to complete the miracle comeback from a 3-0 series deficit with a miracle comeback from a 3-0 game deficit on the road.
On May 5th, the Bruins had taken a seemingly insurmountable 3 games to 0 lead with a win at the Wachovia Center. On May 15th, the Flyers finished a Philly sports miracle with the 7th game win at the TD Garden. What a difference 10 days can make, possibly the most inspirational 10 days in the storied history of the Philadelphia Flyers as they made their mark in hockey history.