By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
For the first time in 13 years, the Flyers were back on the cusp of a title. It started as an unlikely run, a shootout win on the final day of the regular season even punching their ticket to the playoffs in the first place as the seventh seed.
A series win over the No. 2 seed Devils in the quarterfinals in five games pushed them further. Then came the improbable comeback that will go down in history — a look at that series coming tomorrow — that pushed the Flyers from an unlikely participant to a contender when they not only entered the Eastern Conference Final, but hosted the series against the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens.
Another series win in five games pushed the Flyers to face the Chicago Blackhawks. Someone’s long drought was going to come to an end. Obviously, we know which one ended and the heartbreaking ending it was for the Orange and Black. But how close were the Flyers to actually winning the series and their first Stanley Cup since 1975 back in 2010? That’s what we’ll look at in this Series in Review.
Game 1: Blackhawks 6, Flyers 5
There were games in this series where scoring was at a premium and where it was just an offensive onslaught. This was the latter.
Five goals were scored in the first period, but the Flyers found themselves in the lead through 20 minutes. Ville Leino opened the scoring at 6:38 only to have Chicago match the goal at 7:46 with Troy Brouwer scoring. Dave Bolland added a shorthanded goal at 11:50 to give the Blackhawks the lead, but the Flyers added two goals in the final four minutes of the period, one on the power play from Scott Hartnell and another goal with 27 seconds left from Danny Briere.
The Flyers lead was short-lived as just 1:11 into the second period, Patrick Sharp scored to tie the game at three. Blair Betts restored the Flyers lead at 7:20, but again it was answered just 2:11 later with Kris Versteeg scoring. Chicago took the lead at 15:18 of the second on Brouwer’s second of the game, but again, the Flyers got a late goal in the period, with Arron Asham scoring with 1:11 remaining to tie the game at five.
As the third period progressed, the scoring had slowed. Chicago got the next goal, which proved to be the deciding goal at 8:25 of the period from Tomas Kopecky. The deciding goal came against goalie Brian Boucher, who entered in relief after Chicago’s fifth goal. Antti Niemi made 27 saves and allowed five goals, but held on for the win.
Game 2: Blackhawks 2, Flyers 1
After all the chaos and scoring in Game 1, Game 2 remained scoreless into the final minutes of the second period. Chicago finally broke the ice at 17:09 of the period with Marian Hossa striking for the opening goal of the game. Ben Eager added another goal just 28 seconds later and Chicago took a 2-0 lead to the third.
An early power play allowed the Flyers to close the gap with Simon Gagne getting on the board, but that was as close as the Flyers would get. Despite a much better performance from Michael Leighton, Niemi stopped 32 of 33 shots to secure the win and give Chicago a 2-0 series lead.
Game 3: Flyers 4, Blackhawks 3 (F/OT)
As the series went back to Philadelphia, there were shades of 1997 and another Stanley Cup Final sweep creeping in. The Flyers had already faced a 3-0 series deficit once in these playoffs and facing another would certainly mark their demise. This was a must-win.
It started well, as the Flyers got the only goal of the first period on the power play from Briere. Chicago kept the game close throughout though, tying things up on a goal by Duncan Keith at 2:49 of the second. The Flyers regained the lead on the power play at 9:55 with Hartnell getting a goal, but Brent Sopel tied things up at 17:52.
Early in the third, Patrick Kane scored to give the Blackhawks the lead, but just 20 seconds later, Leino tied it back up at three. The game went to overtime where the Flyers desperately needed the next goal to keep any hope in the series alive.
It was Claude Giroux who played hero, scoring on a deflection at the front of the net to give the Flyers the 4-3 win and close the gap in the series.
Game 4: Flyers 5, Blackhawks 3
With the Flyers back in the series, they needed to give themselves a chance going to Chicago, so Game 4 was as critical a game as the one two nights earlier. The Flyers took advantage of some early opportunities to grab the early lead.
Mike Richards scored on the power play at 4:35 and Matt Carle added a goal at 14:48 to make it 2-0. Chicago got on the board with just 1:28 remaining in the period with Sharp getting the goal, but Giroux added another goal for the Flyers with 37 seconds remaining to make it 3-1 after one.
The 3-1 margin held into the third period when Leino added another goal at 6:43 to make it 4-1 and it appeared the Flyers were smooth sailing to an even series. Chicago quickly reminded them how quickly the security of a multi-goal lead can change. Bolland scored on the power play at 12:01 and Brian Campbell cut the lead to one with 4:10 remaining.
The Flyers were able to survive though, getting an empty-net goal from Jeff Carter to seal the 5-3 victory and even up the series at two games.
Game 5: Blackhawks 7, Flyers 4
With the series shifting back to Chicago, the Flyers had to find a way to somehow secure a win in Chicago in order to have a chance. The series was now a best-of-3 and the Flyers had a chance to set up a potential clinching scenario on home ice.
Unfortunately, they just couldn’t figure out how to match up with Chicago on the road. After over 11 minutes of scoreless play, the Flyers went to the penalty kill for the second time in the game and gave up the first goal with Brent Seabrook scoring the opening goal at 12:17. Before the period was over, Bolland and Versteeg each added goals to make it 3-0.
Just 32 seconds into the second period, Hartnell got the Flyers on the board, but it was quickly erased by a goal from Kane at 3:13. Just over a minute later at 4:38, Kimmo Timonen scored to cut the lead back to two, but another power-play goal from Dustin Byfuglien restored the three-goal deficit.
At 6:36 of the third, James van Riemsdyk scored to cut the lead back to two, but as time ran out for the Flyers, Chicago ultimately put the game away when Sharp scored with 3:52 remaining to make it 6-3. Gagne added another goal just 1:16 later to cut the lead to two again with 2:36 remaining, but an empty-net goal for Byfuglien just 31 seconds later capped the scoring and put Chicago one win away from the Cup.
Game 6: Blackhawks 4, Flyers 3 (F/OT)
For a lot of the game, it felt like the Flyers were fighting destiny. Even though they never trailed in Game 6 by more than a goal, it felt like they chased the game throughout.
It took until 16:49 for either team to score, and again Chicago took advantage of a power play with Byfuglien scoring again to make it 1-0. Hartnell tied the game in the final minute of the period on the power play.
At the eight-minute mark of the second, Briere scored to give the Flyers the lead, but it was answered by Sharp just 1:58 later, tying the game at two. With 2:17 remaining in the period, Andrew Ladd scored to make it 3-2 Chicago and put the Flyers on the ropes.
Throughout the third period, the Flyers tried to get the chance that could tie the game up. There were no penalties for the rest of the game, so a man-advantage was not there to help them. Finally with 3:59 remaining, a centering pass from Leino hit Hartnell and went in, tying the game at three. Game 6 was heading to overtime.
It took just 4:06 to get a decision, and for a few seconds, no one knew what had happened. Kane controlled the puck at the left circle and used a head-fake to get positioning on Timonen. As he cut to the net, he threw a shot on goal from an angle that slipped under Leighton and went in. Kane was the only one who seemed to know the puck was in, as he raced the length of the ice to celebrate with Niemi and his teammates. The officials looked at replay to confirm quickly and the series was over. The Flyers run came up two games short.
There were a few things that went against the Flyers in this series. Chicago had really controlled things through most of their playoff journey. While they trailed in a pair of series on their run to the title, they were never behind by more than one game and none of their series went beyond six games. For the Flyers, after making fairly easy work of the Devils in the first round, they had to put a lot of energy into the 3-0 series comeback against Boston, especially the deciding Game 7.
Neither team got great goaltending in the series. Even in the win, Niemi had a .882 save percentage and allowed 21 goals over the six games. Leighton allowed 20 goals total in the six games — Boucher entered in relief for two games in the series — and had a .876 save percentage just one series after recording three shutouts.
Chicago had a lot of solid depth in the series too, forming the foundation of what would become a dynasty. Kane had eight points to lead the team, but only three goals, which certainly magnifies the Cup-clincher in Game 6. No player on the Blackhawks finished with more than four goals in the series with Sharp leading the way there.
For the Flyers, three players did a lot of the heavy lifting. Briere had 12 of his 30 playoff points in this series, including three goals. Hartnell led all players in the series with five goals and had nine points. Leino also had nine points. The next highest player on the Flyers in the series was Giroux and Chris Pronger, who each had four points in the series. Chicago had seven different players record at least five points over the six-game series.
Interestingly enough, the player who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP had one of the worst series. Jonathan Toews had certainly helped carry Chicago to the Final with seven goals and 22 assists for 29 points in 22 games in the playoffs. In the six-game Final, Toews had no goals and just three assists and was a minus-5.
Little did anyone know at this moment that Chicago had set the foundation with Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook as the key cogs of what would be regular runs to the Cup and three titles over the next six seasons. For the Flyers, it was the closest they have come this century and it was a bitter end at that.
Tomorrow, we will continue this series with one of the highlights from that playoff run, a look back at the 2010 series against the Bruins.