Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lupul's overtime goal lifts Flyers into Second Round

Bring on the Canadiens! With the series tied 3-3, the Flyers and Capitals, in a thrilling Game Seven, needed more than three periods to decide who would move on to the next round. The Flyers won 3-2 on a Joffrey Lupul rebound goal, moving them into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Flyers didn't play their best game tonight, but they once again did just enough to keep it close. Martin Biron made several key stops, and the defense stepped up at opportune times to keep the Caps from generating too many clean looks. Derian Hatcher has to be commended for several goal-saving plays he made to slow down Alexander Ovechkin. Hatcher is playing his best hockey of the season at just the right time.

The Capitals got the first goal of the game when Nicklas Backstrom had an open look after the puck took a weird carom off the backboards. After starting slow in the series, Backstrom looked like the player who is deserving of Rookie of the Year status, netting goals in the last four games.

Scottie Upshall tied the game up at 1-1 on a Power Play goal later in the first period. He took a shot from the point that appeared to tip off a skate and then trickle past Cristobal Huet. It wasn't a pretty goal, but the Flyers were on the board. The Capitals then took two penalties in the span of 20 seconds, one of them a double minor, to set up a lengthy 5 on 3 for the Flyers. The Flyers generated several chances, but were unable to get one past Huet, and it appeared that the Caps had grabbed the momentum back.

No one scored again until midway through the second period, when the Flyers took a 2-1 lead on a controversial goal. Patrick Thoreson pushed a Capital defender into Cristobal Huet, who fell over and left a wide-open net for Sami Kapanen to fire the puck into. The goal counted and no penalty was called. After several replays, it is still difficult for me to tell if Thoreson deserved a penalty on the play. I've seen players get called for goalie interference for doing less, but the refs swallowed the whistle.

As they have done in nearly every game, the Flyers gave up their lead several minutes later when Alexander Ovechkin took the puck and fired a laser shot past Martin Biron. Biron was completely unscreened and got a good look at the shot, but Ovechkin fired it faster than Biron could react.

The game remained 2-2 for the entire third period. The Capitals dominated the play, out-working and out-shooting the Flyers but failing to score. The Flyers did just enough and Biron made a bunch of big saves to keep the Caps off the board. The Flyers failed to get anything going offensively, refusing to take any chances that could lead to game-ending turnovers.

The overtime period saw both teams come out with high energy, with chances coming at both ends of the ice. The refs, who had put away their whistles and let several penalties go, finally called Tom Poti of the Capitals for tripping R.J. Umberger to the ice. The Flyers then got their best sustained pressure of the entire game, and just as the power play was ending, Joffrey Lupul found a rebound created by a Kimmo Timonen shot and fired it home. Huet was looking the wrong direction after the shot, allowing Lupul to have an open net to shoot at. The goal was Lupul's first of the playoffs. He had been getting closer and closer to scoring each game, it was only fitting that he finally bury one at the biggest moment.

The Flyers just barely were able to put away the Capitals and avoid an embarrassing collapse in a series they led 3-1. They were fortunate to be on the right side of a few questionable calls by the refs, but all of their goals were the result of hard work and hustle. They didn't get any pretty tic-tac-toe goals, they fought hard to tip shots and get rebound goals. They forced the Capitals to play a rougher style that took them out of their smooth skating game they like to play.

The Canadiens are up next for the Flyers. The Canadiens beat the Flyers every time they played this season, and they are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens are also coming off a seven game series, so both teams will be exhausted. The Bruins were able to push Montreal to the limit, so the Flyers should be able to do some damage. The Canadiens are an excellent team, however, so it will be a big challenge for the Flyers.

But, we'll worry about the Canadiens later. For now, let's all enjoy the Flyers and their ability to come through in a clutch situation. For a team that was the worst in hockey last year, they have moved into the final group of eight. They have come so far, and while they still are missing a few pieces that would make them a bona fide Stanley Cup contender, let's enjoy the ride and see how far they can take things this year.

Footage of the game winner by Joffrey Lupul:

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