Ladies and Gentlemen, the Philadelphia Flyers are the 2010 Eastern Conference Champions!
I could write that four million times, and the phrase would honestly never get old. I was fortunate enough to be at the game last night and let me tell you: what a spectacle, what an adrenaline rush, what a game, and, most importantly, WHAT. A. TEAM.
The game didn’t start as it many probably would’ve liked: the Canadiens controlled play early on, and struck first blood on one of the rare shots these playoffs that Michael Leighton should’ve had, yet let slip by him. Brian Gionta did the trick, scoring only his second goal of the series just a minute into the game, as Scott Gomez fed him a beautiful pass in the slot, and Gionta buried a snapper through Leighton’s five-hole. The stands started to have an eerie feeling flow throw them: could the Habs pull off the unthinkable, again? This time to the Flyers? Thankfully, the man that wears the ‘C’ in the Orange and Black had other ideas.
I mentioned in the Boston series that Mike Richards had won me over this postseason. His guts, determination, and inspired play all while leading by example on a consistent basis suddenly had come out of no where, and they were helping to lead the Flyers to victory. These playoffs Mike Richards has won me over. Last night, he brought me to tears.
With the Flyers shorthanded on a marginal roughing penalty against Kimmo Timonen shortly after the Habs had made it 1-0, the Flyers entered an all-important penalty kill. Mike Richards, of course, was on the ice. Early on in the PK, he made a statement, as the puck was passed back to Marc-Andre Bergeron at the point in the Flyers’ zone, and Richards just absolutely leveled him, sending him five feet in the air backwards, setting up a three-on-one the other way. A Braydon Coburn slapper was eventually stifled by Jaroslav Halak, but the Flyers captain was not giving up. Later in the penalty kill, a loose puck made it’s way to center ice, and Richards was about to race away on a breakaway. Roman Hamrlik was giving chase, and, suddenly Halak was as well. Hamrlik and Halak collided at the top of the circles, squibbing the puck free behind the two of them where Richards lay. He got himself up quickly, picked up the puck, and buried it right into the back of the net to even up the score and send the Wachovia Center into a raucous frenzy.
The first period would end 1-1, but it was certainly the Flyers that had taken over play after Richards goal, despite being outshot 9-6. Entering the second, the Flyers knew they needed to establish themselves in the Montreal zone early, and that they did. Three minutes into the frame, Matt Carle found Arron Asham wide open in front of Halak. Asham made a quick backhand to forehand deke and roofed it over Halak, to give the Flyers the all-important 2-1 lead. Just a minute and a half later, a beautiful tick-tack-toe between Kimmo Timonen, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter resulted in Carter burying a shot just in front of the crease off a pass behind the net from Richards to put the Flyers in front 3-1. While many in the Wachovia Center felt the Flyers had this one in the bag with the way the rest of the second period went, everyone knew in the back of their minds that nothing was going to come easy after everything this team had been through. The Flyers dominated the second period for the second game in a row, outshooting Montreal 12-6.
In the third, the thoughts began to creep in. “20 minutes from a trip to the Final” “All they’ve worked for has come down to this” “Please, o please, dear God, don’t blow it” Fortunately for the Flyers, lady luck was on their side, as the Orange and Black survived a frantic early push by Montreal to try to make the score 3-2. Eventually, with 13 minutes left, the Habs would make it a 3-2 game, and send an uneasy feeling through the Wachovia Center. Still, the Flyers held tough and Leighton was exceptional in goal. With about a minute and a half left, the Habs pulled Halak in an attempt to save their season and tie the game.
Mike Richards would have none of it.
The Flyers’ captain brought back images of Bobby Clarke with his determination to race down a loose puck heading towards the Montreal goal. He would beat Tomas Plekanec, who had about three strides on him to start, to the disc, and drop it back for Jeff Carter to net his second of the game through the legs of the makeshift goaltender, Josh Gorges. The Wachovia Center went nuts. The Flyers bench celebrated and hugged. Michael Leighton exulted by throwing his arms up in the air.
The Philadelphia Flyers – our Philadelphia Flyers – are 2010 Eastern Conference Champions. How sweet it is!