The Flyers opened up their last two games in a Home & Home series versus the Rangers this past Friday in Madison Square Garden. Philadelphia had to win at least one of these games to clinch a playoff spot while the Rangers must win both in order to clinch theirs.
It seemed as if the Flyers rolled out of the locker room as an unstoppable force beginning the game with extreme physical play, great skating and an early top shelf wrister by Philly Captain, Mike Richards. After that the game went back and forth and eventually tied up 3 - 3 until Rangers forward, Marion Gaborik, put the last puck in net, 4 - 3, late in the 2nd period ultimately being the game winning goal.
Philadelphia left MSG with their backs against the wall and knew that Sunday's game was do or die. "We have a chance to clinch up a playoff spot at home," said Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, whose turnover led to Gaborik's deciding goal in the second period.
Sunday....April 11th....the early morning sun rose above the corn field adjacent to my property and began to cut through my windowpane, awakening me. The Flyers gameday tickets lay patiently in my wallet as I start my morning rituals. My jeep is packed with a charcoal grill, a cooler of Molson Canadian, chicken kabobs and marinated lamb chops. When this day ends, I knew it would end successfully and epically.
By the time my buddy and I parked in Wachovia's parking lot, it was only 11am and I had texted a group of 10 or so more friends our location so if by chance the season ended today, we all go out with an old fashioned Flyers tailgate bang!
It was good times as always; ate some cooked meat off the grill, washed it down with one or two....or twelve brews, booed every single Rangers fan we saw, and shared more laughs than any of us have all week long. The only problem some of us guys faced was there wasn't a Port-O-John in plain sight. A few muscled through it, and there were a few who resorted to the ol' empty water bottle!
As gametime drew closer, I grew more and more anxious. Like I said, this was winner-take all.
It was time to empty the grill, pack up the tailgate and make our way to the Wachovia. We all shook hands as we parted to our given seats, and wished one another a great game.
Just 3:27 seconds into the first period, Flyers goalie Brian Boucher was beaten by a deflected shot from the point off of Jody Shelley's stick. The score was a Ranger lead, 1 - 0. That score remained until Flyers defenseman Matt Carle managed to squeeze the puck past Henrik Lundqvist with a backhanded power play goal with a little over thirteen minutes remaining in the game, tying it up, 1 - 1.
Up until then it seemed Lundqvist was on another one of his games. By the time the bout ended, Henrik stopped 46 of 47 Flyer shots! He literally stood on his head making plays in the last half of the game that made me pull my hair with both frustration, and the appreciation of being able to witness such an outstanding performance by one player.
When Overtime came and went, it was time for a shootout. A mixture of emotions ran through me like an avalanche. I knew how God awful our shootout record was, I couldn't believe the game was going to be decided like this, and due to Lundqvist's play in net all night....I certainly had my doubts.
As if I was watching a horror film, my hands were pressed against my sunburned face and heavily breathing mouth, fingers parted and eyes gazing as players began their lone attack on the goaltenders.
Danny Briere started the shootout circling the puck, gaining speed, the net growing larger and larger and......GOOOOOOAL!!!! The crowd went nuts. The sounds of cheers and screams turned the roof into a mass jungle of vibrating steel and cable. We had not won it yet, so I gained composure and watched Ranger forward, and hot stick Erik Christensen kick the puck to his blade. Side to side he deked and.....SAAAAAAAAAAVE!!! Boucher stopped a low shot attempt and the Flyers were up 1 - 0 in the SO.
After Richards was stopped, Parenteau beat Boucher, and Giroux put it past Lundqvist to put the Flyers up 2 - 1 in the shootout, it all came down to Rangers forward Olli Jokinen and Brian Boucher. The seconds before the play on net, the crowd was electrified. I feared that the noise would split cracks in the ice and the glass boards.
It was like something out of a slow motion scene in a movie; Olli's started his advancement while Boucher's head followed the strides and puck movements. Olli grew closer. Brian's breath escaped his mask one last time before the entire arena drew it's final breath. Olli dekes and moves first, Boucher drops to his knees eliminating the #1, 2 and 5 holes. Olli gives a last backhanded attempt and BOUCHER MAKES THE SAVE! BOUCHER MAKES THE SAVE! THE FLYERS ARE GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS!!!
Brian stumbled out of net in excitement throwing his hands in the air, lifting his knee and danced his way to center ice where he was met by the rest of his playoff-bound squad!
My buddy and I have a bro'mance moment, hugging and jumping up and down like a couple of 11 year old girls who got backstage passes to a Jonas Brothers concert.
Like I expected, the day ended in epic proportions. I get to see my Fly Guys again on the ice, battling it out for more playoff ground. All the frustration from this up and down season has completely left me. The playoffs are an entire different breed of hockey where anything is possible.
The Philadelphia Flyers (7th seed) begin their first playoff series against the New Jersey Devils (2nd seed) Wednesday, April 14th @ 7:30pm in New Jersey.
Below I added the tying Carle goal on Lundqvist in the 3rd period.