Surging Flyers return to Stanley Cup Final
-- Consider No. 13 lucky in the City of Brotherly Love.
Ending a 13-year drought, the Philadelphia Flyers booked passage to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1997, taking a 4-2 decision from Montreal in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final at Wachovia Center.
Now, the seventh-seeded Flyers travel to Chicago for Saturday's opening game of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks, the No. 2 seed in the West, made their date for the Final with a stunning sweep of the top-seeded San Jose Sharks, which ended with Sunday's 4-2 win in Game 4.
"It's been great so far," Flyers captain Mike Richards
said in an on-ice interview immediately following the game. "Obviously the journey hasn't ended, hopefully we have a little of a Cinderella story here at the end. We have to prepare for Chicago now. It feels good."
Philadelphia ended a Cinderella ride by the Canadiens that had seen No. 8 Montreal upset both the East's top-seeded team, the Washington Capitals, and the defending Stanley Cup champion, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But Montreal had no magic left in this round, shut out in 9 of the first 12 periods of this series to fall into a three-games-to-one hole that proved to be too much after rallies from 3-1 and 3-2 deficits in the previous two series.
"It's tough when you put things together and make things happen and end up coming up short," defenseman Hal Gill said.
Philadelphia used the workmanlike effort that has come to characterize this team to earn the Prince of Wales Trophy -- which Richards did pick up following the post-game presentation -- as well as the right to chase its first title since the Broad Street Bullies claimed Lord Stanley's chalice in 1975.
"Relentless -- that's our slogan coming into the season and we're living up to it right now," said forward Jeff Carter
, who scored twice.
"This city loves hockey, loves winners. They'll stick behind you through thick and thin and we're happy we can do this for the fans here."
It was a victory built on opportunistic offense, rock-solid defense and often brilliant goaltending by Michael Leighton
. Just as importantly, it was built on the sweat of a penalty kill that turned the tide of the game and the sweat of all 20 players as they did everything necessary to outlast Montreal on Monday night.
Richards began Philadelphia's only comeback of the series when he tied the game at the 4:25 mark of the first period with his patented hustle.
Killing a penalty to Kimmo Timonen
, Claude Giroux
cleared the zone without intention. But Richards never gave up on the play as the puck skittered into the Montreal zone. Suddenly, he had a step on defenseman Roman Hamrlik for the puck, forcing goalie Jaroslav Halak to come charging out in a bold attempt to play the puck.
Amazingly, all three players arrived at the puck -- at the top of the right faceoff circle -- at the same time in a pretty violent pile-up. The puck, meanwhile careened on toward goal and somehow, Richards was the first one up off the deck, able to corral the puck and deposit in the vacated net.
It was Philadelphia's first shorthanded goal of the postseason.
"I was just watching him to see if he came out," Richards said during the first intermission. "He did and I just tried to poke it by him. I don't know what happened with it, but the puck ended up back on my stick and I was able to put it in. I think we came out a little tentative, maybe a little bit nervous.
That goal from Richards, his sixth of the postseason, erased the momentum Montreal had gained when Brian Gionta scored in the game's opening minute.
Flyer defenseman Chris Pronger
made an ill-conceived clearing pass that was intercepted by Hamrlik in the neutral zone. He turned it the other way with a quick pass to Scott Gomez at the blue line. Gomez, delaying, found Gionta with a step on defenseman Matt Carle
and back-checking forward Blair Betts
. Gionta then went five-hole against Michael Leighton
, who had three shutouts in his past four games, and gave Montreal a 1-0 lead on just its second shot, 59 seconds into Game 5.
The Canadiens, who were 5-0 in elimination games this season, held on for the rest of the period; but succumbed to the Flyers non-stop pressure in the second period.
Third-liner Arron Asham, perhaps the unlikeliest candidate, gave Philadelphia its first lead of the night when Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn made a terrible turnover by not clearing the zone. Carle kept the puck in and then calmly found Asham on the left doorstep of Halak's crease. Despite having just two goals this postseason, Asham showed a goal-scorer's skill and patience by roofing one over a helpless Halak.
"I only have one move," Asham said.
Asham's goal was started by the brave play of Ian Laperriere
, who blocked a PK Subban shot to start action in the other direction. Laperriere, you might remember, blocked a Paul Martin shot with his face in the first round, resulting in a brain contusion and close to 70 stitches. He just returned to the lineup in Game 4 of this series, yet was willing to once again put his body in harm's way for the good of his team.
Richards was then the driving force behind Montreal's third goal, just 84 seconds after Asham scored.
Carter, also back from injury, started and finished the sequence. He began with a nifty pass to an on-rushing Timonen, who found Richards camped behind the goal line to the right of Halak's net. Timonen dished the puck and drove the net, backing Gill into Halak's line of vision just as Richards passed to Carter for a devastating one-timer.
And just like that, the impossible-to-kill Canadiens were dead. Gomez would bring them to within a goal 6:53 into the third, but Carter added the empty-net goal with 22.1 seconds remaining.
"It's pretty special," Pronger said. "We're four wins away from what our goal was when we set out, so we'll soak this one in tonight and start preparing (for Chicago) tomorrow. It's been quite a ride so far."
Shift of the game:
A dozen games ago, Flyers forward Ian Laperriere
threw himself to the ice to block a shot by Devils defenseman Paul Martin and received a brain contusion and close to 70 stitches for his efforts. Monday night, in just his second game back from that career-threatening injury, Laperriere threw himself to the ice in a similar manner to block a shot from Canadiens defenseman PK Subban early in the second period. Less than a minute later, Aaron Asham scored a goal to give the Flyers their first lead at 2-1.
|Three star selections