The Philadelphia Flyers celebrate their first period goal by Mike Richards in Game 6 of a second-round NHL playoff hockey series with the Boston Bruins, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, in Philadelphia.(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
PHILADELPHIA - Philly took a break from Flyers frenzy to hate on its in-state neighbour to the west.
The City of Brotherly Love was still wringing its nervous hands during warmups before a must-win Game 6 against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night when the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins started a do-or-die game of their own.
Hockey Night In Pennsylvania was on in a big way.
The Flyers became just the sixth NHL team to force a Game 7 in a series it trailed 3-0. Only two of those clubs—the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders—finished the trick.
Philadelphia will get its chance to join the exclusive group on Friday night in Boston.
Funny thing is, the Flyers' 2-1 victory in Game 6 wasn't even the most surprising score in the state on Wednesday.
That distinction belonged to Montreal, which dethroned the Penguins with a 5-2 win and ended their run of consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals at two.
The eighth-seeded Canadiens followed up their 3-1 series comeback against Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington in the first round by beating Pittsburgh after falling behind 3-2 in the second round. That assures the survivor on Friday—either the No. 6 Bruins or No. 7 Flyers—home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference finals.
Just another bonus for the orange-clad fans in Philly, who boasted Wednesday that "History Will Be Made." Not bad considering the Canadiens, Bruins and Flyers all had to wait until the final weekend to secure spots in the playoffs.
Philadelphia didn't get in until it outlasted the New York Rangers in a shootout on the last day of the regular season.
"This team has been through a lot," said coach Peter Laviolette, who took over for the fired John Stevens in December. "It seems every time we get thrown something, we continue to play, continue to push.
"They won't go away."
Signs in the seats and on the scoreboard reminded anyone watching about what happened in 1942 and 1975. Although their nerves were likely frayed, everyone seemed ready to party—starting with an outdoor bash in the rain hours before the first puck dropped.
"We honestly believed all the way," said forward Danny Briere, who scored the winning goal in Game 6. "Even when we were down three-nothing we felt like we were close. Bounces here and there weren't going exactly the way we had hoped for and we weren't that far off. We knew we had enough to get back in this series."
With an hour to wait before the Flyers continued their quest to rebound from an 0-3 series hole, fans were given a glimpse of the first period of the Penguins-Canadiens. They roared with delight when Montreal took an early 1-0 lead against the team that knocked the Flyers out of the playoffs each of the last two years.
Forget Brotherly Love, this was blatant dislike—and it would only grow worse as the Penguins' reign ran out.
"I'm not worried about them," Flyers captain Mike Richards said.
When the Flyers and Bruins finished their warmups, the crowd again exulted when the Canadiens' 2-0 lead was posted on the scoreboard. The advantage grew to 3-0 during a spirited rendition of "God Bless America" in Philadelphia and it hit 4-0 during the first stoppage of the game.
Suddenly, there was more to cheer about than just what played out in front of them.
The hero of this night for the home team was again goalie Michael Leighton, who took over for the injured Brian Boucher in Game 5 and finished off the 4-0 shutout on Monday that made Game 6 necessary. Leighton had served the saviour role earlier this season when Ray Emery went down and seemed perfectly willing and able to reprise it with the season on the line.
"I'm not surprised," Leighton said. "You look around the room and there are veteran guys, young guys. We have a great team. I've had confidence in this team ever since I got here. I know we have a great team and we can do great things. It shows a lot of character from our team battling back from 0-3."
Boucher was a rookie star for the Flyers a decade ago and backstopped a surprise run to the Eastern Conference finals. Now he is a well-travelled veteran—but not forgotten.
When he was shown on the centre-ice screen in the second period, standing against a Flyers wall mural in the bowels of Wachovia Center in a well-tailored suit instead of a mask and pads, Boucher was showered with a standing ovation. His season is likely over because of a knee injury no matter how long the Flyers stay alive.
But chants of "Booooosh" filled the arena as he waved, blew kisses and appeared to fight off tears. That was the only tinge of sadness on this night in Philadelphia.
The Flyers' task is not complete.
"It wasn't pretty, but then again they're not all going to be," defenceman Chris Pronger said. "At the end of the day, the result is what matters.
"It's not always the easiest route, but we always seem to find a way."