Saturday, May 3, 2008

Flyers win, move to the Eastern Conference Finals!

(AP Photo/The Canadian, Ryan Remiorz)
Bring on the Penguins! Or maybe the Rangers if they pull off a miracle.

After falling behind by 2 goals in the third period, the Flyers pulled off an incredible comeback to knock off the Canadiens 6-4 and win their series against Montreal 4 games to 1. It was another total team effort in the comeback, with several players stepping up, making plays and scoring goals to lead the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Scottie Upshall was the big hero of the night as he scored the game winning goal when he deflected in a Jeff Carter shot with 3 minutes left in the third. R.J. Umberger also continued his incredible goal scoring streak with two goals tonight, scoring for the 5th game in a row to give him 9 total goals in the playoffs. Umberger has been just incredible lately, scoring timely goals on some amazing plays.

Before the game, the Canadiens decided to start Carey Price, a decision that they probably regret now. Price was shaky all night, continually giving up huge rebounds and allowing the puck to play him instead of the other way around. He made a few solid stops during the game, but more often then not he misplayed the puck and failed to contain his rebounds. He was a big reason why the Flyers were able to win this series, especially when you compare his performance to that of Martin Biron. Biron was a rock in the Flyers goal and Price was completely flustered and lacked confidence.

The game didn't start out great for the Flyers as the Canadiens struck first for the first time all series. Tomas Plekanec scored a power play goal off a deflection that Biron had no chance on 4 1/2 minutes into the game. Umberger then tied the score with his first goal of the night when he broke in on Price, fired a backhand shot that ricocheted off Price and then pumped the rebound home as he was falling down. Those are the types of goals hot players score.

The Canadiens then scored the next two goals to build a 3-1 lead. Biron had no chance on the first goal that deflected off Alexei Kovalev's stick, but he looked human later as Chris Higgins beat him with a shot in the second period. From there, the Flyers rallied to score three unanswered goals in the second period, getting tallies from Mike Richards, R.J. Umberger and Scott Hartnell to take a 4-3 lead into the third period. Richards' goal was fluky as he tried to bat the puck down and it appeared to deflect off his glove and into the net. Hartnell simply fired a shot on Price that he couldn't handle to give the Flyers the lead.

The Canadiens struck early in the third to tie the game up on another goal that made Marty Biron look human. Then, after a ton of chances both ways and lots of plays up and down the ice, Scottie Upshall deflected Jeff Carter's shot past Price to give the Flyers a 5-4 lead. Mike Knuble later finished things off with an empty netter to ensure the victory.

Tonight's win had a lot to do with lucky bounces, but they were set up by the Flyers hustling to the puck and getting in the right place to make things happen. They showed tremendous fortitude in fighting back from a 2 goal deficit, something they watched their opponents do far too often in the playoffs. This team has the look of a team of destiny; they will not give up no matter how far down they are or how badly they are being outplayed. The Flyers have the ability to absorb the best chances their opponent has and turn them around into back-breaking goals. Timely scoring and amazing goaltending is the recipe for success in the playoffs, and the Flyers have both working for them right now.

The Flyers move on to the Eastern Conference Finals now, and they await the winner of the Penguins/Rangers series. With the Penguins holding a 3-1 lead, it looks like we are heading for a battle for Pennsylvania with our cross-state rivals. With a trip to the Stanley Cup on the line, it's going to be an amazing series.

This is a special Flyers team. They have gone from the worst team in the NHL to one of the four best teams in the league. While so much credit is given to GM Paul Holmgren for re-shaping this team, plenty should be given to Coach John Stevens for getting them to play the game the right way. The Flyers work hard, hit hard, and don't let anything come easy for their opponents. How Stevens isn't a finalist for the NHL Coach of the Year award is beyond me; he certainly has been pushing all the right buttons and making all the right decisions for the last month.

The Canadiens, the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, are the next team to fall to the Flyers. With so much at stake now, the competition will really step up and the Flyers will have to raise their game even more. We are going to see if this team has been overachieving this whole time or if they are truly a team that is destined to win it all. After a few days of solid rest, hopefully they can get right back out there and continue to play with the intensity and aggression that no team has been able to match so far.

Oh, and if they do end up playing the Penguins, I wonder what injury Sidney Crosby will make up this time to avoid playing the Flyers?

Video highlights of the Flyers series clincher against the Canadiens via Comcast SportsNet:

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