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Return Flight: The Comeback

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In 2010, the Flyers provided perhaps the biggest comeback in the history of the NHL against the Boston Bruins.

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Throughout the season, we’ll be taking a walk down memory lane whenever the Flyers open their season series against an opponent. We’ll be remembering a game, goal, or highlight Philly created while playing against that particular team. It won’t always be the most notable memory the Orange and Black have against that team, but it’ll be something that Flyers’ fans will want to remember.

The 2009-10 season was an absurd season for the Philadelphia Flyers. After a 12-5-1 start, the Orange and Black endured a 3-13-1 stretch from November 20th to December 21st (with two wins against the New York Islanders and Kimmo Timonen potting perhaps the longest empty-net goal in the history of hockey to beat the Boston Bruins) that saw the team drop to 29th in the standings at one point in time (imagine Flyers’ twitter then). Following a strong January and February, Philly put itself in a position to fight for a playoff spot near the end of the regular season.

With points at a premium, the Flyers traveled to Toronto and edged out a 2-0 win over the Maple Leafs in their third-to-last game of the season thanks to a first period tally from Claude Giroux and a goal-line save late from Brian Boucher. Naturally, the Flyers dropped their next game to the New York Rangers, who they wound up facing in the regular season finale to determine who would be the last team to complete the Eastern Conference playoff picture (we all know how that ended).

Holding a tiebreaker over the Montreal Canadiens, the Flyers ended up being the seventh seed and faced the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 2010 postseason. One Daniel Carcillo overtime goal and Ian Laperriere blocked shot (that is evidently the equivalent of coaching tenure) later, the Flyers had bounced the Devils in five games to take on the Boston Bruins in the second round.

Not only were the Flyers playing a team that won nine of their previous 12 games heading into the series, they’d be taking the Bruins on without two regulars in the lineup. To go along with Lappy’s brain contusion and ‘mild’ concussion from the aforementioned block, Jeff Carter broke his right foot when it was hit with a Chris Pronger shot in Game 4 of the Devils’ series. He missed 11 games after he suffered the injury and wouldn’t suit up for the Flyers until Game 4 of their matchup with the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final. Simon Gagne was also injured in Game 4 of the Flyers’ opening series against the Devils, as he broke his toe on a Brian Rolston shot, but he managed to return in the team’s next series against Boston.

As the three seed, the Bruins held home-ice advantage for the first two games and left town up 2-0 after a pair of extremely close games. Even though a crafty David Krejci goal put Boston up by two with 12:35 left in regulation, the Flyers forced overtime thanks to Mike Richards putting a shot through congestion in the crease and Danny Briere going coast to coast. Despite Brian Boucher providing numerous highlight-reel saves in the first few minutes of overtime, Marc Savard found the back of the net (and maybe celebrated a little too hard) with a little over six minutes left in the first extra period for the 5-4 decision. Philly erased a pair of one-goal deficits to make Game 2 a 2-2 contest heading into the final frame, but Milan Lucic managed to slam home a turnaround slap shot with 2:57 left in regulation for the game-winner.

With the series in Philly, the Orange and Black opened Game 3 with a tally from Arron Asham just 2:32 in. Unfortunately, the Flyers’ first lead of the series didn’t last all that long, as Blake Wheeler (who Peter Chiarelli traded away lol) leveled the score 1:39 after Asham’s goal. To make matters worse, Miroslav Satan potted the eventual game-winning goal just 1:34 after Wheeler’s goal, despite Richards ending Krejci’s 2010 postseason. Goals from Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron in the third period gave the Bruins a 4-1 victory and a 3-0 series lead.

Suffering a pair of painful losses and only leading for 1:39 in the first three games of the series, it didn’t look great for the Flyers. Philly had never overcome a 3-1 series deficit let alone a 3-0 series deficit, something that, up until that point in time, only three teams in NHL, MLB, or NBA had accomplished. The only bit of hope for the team was the fact Gagne made his return to the lineup after missing four games.

With the return of Gagne, the Flyers worked their way to a 3-1 lead halfway through Game 4. Despite the Bruins tying the game early in the final frame, Ville Leino managed to redirect a Pronger shot from the point to regain the lead with 5:40 left in regulation. With a chance to avoid a sweep just seconds away, Recchi took a cross-ice feed from Bergeron and beat Boucher up high with 31.5 seconds left in regulation.

Down 3-0 in the series and allowing a deflating game-tying goal in the final minute, the Flyers’ season was just one goal away from ending. Things didn’t look too promising in overtime when Darroll Powe was charged with boarding Marc Savard 10:36 into extra time, but Philly managed to kill off the power play (a successful Flyers’ penalty kill?) to extend the game. Then, with 5:20 left in the first overtime, Gagne finished his first game back in the lineup with a statement.

Although they had edged out an overtime win at home to avoid a sweep, the Flyers still had a huge hill to climb. As the series shifted back to Boston, a line that head coach Peter Laviolette formed in Game 4 made its presence felt in Game 5. The trio of Leino, Briere, and Scott Hartnell were put together in the previous game, but this is the game where the line that powered the Flyers to a Stanley Cup Final appearance took off.

After he opened the scoring in the first period, Leino may have had the hardest working shift in the offensive zone for a player who didn’t earn a point to help the Flyers extend their lead to two. Leino managed to pounce on multiple loose pucks to extend Philly’s cycle before he let go of a shot from the point that was blocked by Mark Stuart, which led to Kimmo Timonen grabbing the rebound and putting a shot of his own on net. Timonen’s shot forced Tuukka Rask to push a puck to Briere at the side of the cage, who managed to flip a pass over the sprawled out goaltender to Hartnell on the other side of the net, who batted it in halfway through the game.

Between Leino and Hartnell’s goals, the Flyers suffered another injury woe. Following an offensive chance from the Bruins, Ryan Parent fell on top of Boucher while the goalie’s leg was bent at an awkward angle, which led the goalie to miss a month of action thanks to a sprained MCL in his left knee. As Boucher exited, Michael Leighton entered.

Gagne proceeded to score on a power play late in the second and benefited from a Dennis Wideman broken stick to finalize the 4-0 score to make it a 3-2 series.

As the momentum started to swing heavily in their favor, the Flyers evened the series with a 2-1 win in Game 6. Richards found a loose puck in a chaotic scramble in the crease to make it 1-0 nearly seven minutes into the game. Briere made it 2-0 late in the second period after he attempted a cross-ice pass that bounced off Johnny Boychuk right back to him to create a scoring chance. Milan Lucic made it a one-goal game with exactly one minute left in regulation, but there was no real threat of the Bruins tying the game.

Nine days after going down 3-0, the Flyers were one win away from completing one of the biggest comebacks in the history of professional sports. Much like the rest of the 2009-10 season, Game 7 wouldn’t come easy for Philly. After a power-play goal from Michael Ryder, Lucic scored a power-play goal of his own and a painful five-hole goal to make it 3-0 Bruins with 5:50 left in the first period. It’s not the way you want to start out any game let alone a Game 7 on the road when your team entered the tilt with all the momentum, but it did lead to one of the most iconic moments in franchise history.

One wouldn’t know it now when watching a Flyers’ game nowadays, but each team is given one timeout. Laviolette decided to use his in this particular game after Lucic’s second goal. He offered his team a simple message, but his confidence and ability to stop Boston’s momentum did wonders to help the Flyers.

Just over three minutes after Laviolette’s timeout, James van Riemsdyk had a shot break Stuart’s stick and sneak under Rask’s pad to make it a two-goal game. The deficit was erased in the second period thanks to an impressive backhander from Hartnell and an improbable wraparound goal from Briere to make it 3-3 8:49 into the middle frame.

This was the score until the Bruins were hit with a too many men bench minor with only 8:50 left in the contest. Fittingly, the man who started the comeback potted the goal that finished the comeback, with his fourth goal and fifth point during Philly’s four-game winning streak.

Being a goal away from elimination in overtime of Game 4, the Flyers now had to kill the final 7:08 of regulation to complete the comeback. As the minutes and seconds felt like hours to Flyers’ fans everywhere, two memorable moments happened as the clock worked its way down to zero. One was Claude Giroux’s ability to play keep away from multiple Bruins with a little over two minutes left.

The other moment was Pronger pinning Savard to the ice as time expired.

With the win the Flyers joined the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders (who almost did it twice in the same postseason with the second comeback coming against the Flyers), and the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only teams to ever overcome a 0-3 series deficit among the four major sports. The 2014 Los Angeles Kings became the fifth team to join this particular club. Considering the Red Sox comeback came against their biggest rivals in perhaps the biggest rivalry in North American sports to help end an 86-year drought and the Maple Leafs pulled it off in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final, it’s hard to argue the Flyers’ comeback was the most notable comeback in the history of professional sports. However, the fact the Flyers didn’t have one of their biggest offensive weapons in Carter, lost their starting goalie, had a deflating last-second goal against in Game 4 to put them on the verge of being swept, and overcame a three-goal deficit in Game 7 the Orange and Black have a legitimate case for handling the toughest road to completing the comeback.

Philly went on to beat the Montreal Canadiens in a five-game Eastern Conference Final (thanks to three shutouts from Leighton) before ultimately falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final. The 2009-10 Flyers didn’t achieve the ultimate goal, but looking at the path they took to get within one goal of a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final there’s a good chance they were the third-most memorable team in franchise history behind the two teams that won Cups.

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