BOSTON - No NHL team knows better than the Philadelphia Flyers how hard it is to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series.
Philadelphia beat Boston four straight times in last year's Eastern Conference semifinals to eliminate the Bruins en route to the Stanley Cup finals. This year, the Flyers are in a hole again, but at least they know the deficit isn't insurmountable.
"We can't think about winning four in row. We can't think of any of that stuff," Flyers defenceman Sean O'Donnell said. "We just have to come and play the way we know we can and keep getting traffic and win a period, and hopefully win a game, and get to Game 5. And that's all we can do right now."
Only three NHL teams, including last year's Flyers, have ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a post-season series. Nobody's done it twice, though the New York Islanders came back to force a seventh game against Philadelphia in the second round of the 1975 playoffs after rallying to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round in seven games.
"It's a really difficult thing to do, and they would be the first team in history to do it two years in a row," owner Ed Snider said on Wednesday night in the Flyers' locker room. "It's an awful lot to expect, and Boston is playing very well. We're going to have to step up our game in order to compete with them."
The Bruins put the Flyers on the brink of elimination with a 5-1 victory on Wednesday night that gave Boston a chance to complete the sweep in Game 4 on Friday. In fact, the Bruins could advance to the Stanley Cup finals without winning on the road; Tampa Bay completed its sweep of the top-seeded Washington Capitals on Wednesday night to advance to the East finals.
But the Bruins aren't about to start planning ahead. Not with the still-fresh memory of last year, when the Bruins led 3-0 in the series before Philadelphia forced a seventh game; then, in Game 7, Boston took a 3-0 lead before losing 4-3 and watching the Flyers advance.
And the Bruins are tired of hearing about it.
"I answered that question the first day," forward Shawn Thornton told reporters. "And you guys promised me I wouldn't have to answer it again."
There's one way they can guarantee that. And their first chance comes on Friday.
"(We) keep playing the way we are, game by game, and that doesn't change until it's actually over," said David Krejci, who was injured in Game 3 of the Flyers series last year and missed the rest of the playoffs. "Last year, we had a good chance to play in the conference final, and who knows what could happen. So, this year, we just really want to beat these guys and get to the conference final and go from there."
The Flyers have an all-time record of 30-34 in games where they are facing elimination, but they have won six of their last seven. But they are struggling with goaltending; Brian Boucher has been able to complete only two games so far in the playoffs, and he was pulled in each of the last two games against Boston (though one was because of an injury).
Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped seven of eight shots after coming on in relief in Game 3, could get the start on Friday night. But coach Peter Laviolette didn't blame Boucher after Boston scored twice in the first 63 seconds, and it certainly wasn't the goalie's fault that the Flyers were 12-for-55 on faceoffs—a total of 22 per cent that the Elias Sports Bureau said is the lowest in a playoff game for at least 10 years.
"Obviously with the way the playoffs have gone, everyone is going to pile on Bouch," O'Donnell said. "But I don't think that Tim Thomas in the net would have stopped either of those two goals. So, it's unfortunate that that's kind of the way things have been going, that Bouch is going to take a lot of the flack for that.
"We weren't ready to start; we made some defensive breakdowns. ... We're digging ourselves a hole and, unfortunately, because the spotlight is on the goaltending, Bouch has to pay. But I can't fault him for any of those two goals.
"I don't think anybody can."