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Return Flight: A statement made in Vancouver

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A blowout win early in the 2007-08 season set the tone for a wild season.

Vancouver Canucks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

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.

Although they only have two Stanley Cups to their credit, the Philadelphia Flyers are an organization that takes pride in always being a contending team. Out of the 50 opportunities they’ve had to reach the postseason, the Orange and Black have only missed it 11 times. Even with only three playoff appearances over the last six seasons, Philly has only missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons once in their history, as they missed the playoffs for five straight years from 1990 to 1994. After that five-year span of pain, the Flyers proceeded to appear in the postseason for 11 straight seasons winning 11 playoff series in the process. Following this 11-year run, Philadelphia endured their worst regular season that wasn’t shortened by a lockout, as they went 22-48-12 to earn 56 points and finished 30th in the NHL while the Phoenix Coyotes finished 29th with 67 points. Needless to say, the organization and their fans weren’t going to settle for a second straight season of torture.

Before becoming the current president of the Flyers, Paul Holmgren stepped into the role of the club’s general manager in October of 2006. Although they struggled mightily on the ice throughout 2006-07, Holmgren was succeeding in off-ice moves throughout the campaign. Twelve years ago tomorrow, Holmgren shipped d-man Freddy Meyer and a conditional third-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (which was used to select defenseman Mark Katic) to the New York Islanders in exchange for 34-year-old Alexei Zhitnik. In one of his better trades over the course of his time as general manager, Holmgren proceeded to flip Zhitnik to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for 21-year-old blue liner Braydon Coburn. A pair of trades with David Poile of the Nashville Predators allowed Holmgren to add Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Scottie Upshall, and Ryan Parent to the roster along with a third-round pick in the 2007 draft (which was eventually packaged with a 2008 second to move up to grab Kevin Marshall two spots ahead of P.K. Subban).

Holmgren also shipped Kyle Calder to the Chicago Blackhawks for Lasse Kukkonen and a third in 2007 (which was used to draft Garrett Klotz), along with a second-round pick in 2007 (which became T.J. Brennan) to the Buffalo Sabres for Martin Biron at the trade deadline. In his final trade before the start of the 2007-08 campaign, Holmgren sent Joni Pitkanen, Geoff Sanderson, and a 2009 third-round pick (which the Edmonton Oilers used on, apparently, a hockey player) to the Oilers for Joffrey Lupul and blue liner Jason Smith, who served as the Flyers’ captain for the 2007-08 season. In addition to all these trades, Holmgren also signed Danny Briere, who’d just recorded 32 goals and 95 points with the Buffalo Sabres, to an eight-year deal worth $52 million. After this slew of moves, it was believed the Flyers were a better team, but on-ice success was needed to verify this belief.

The answer to this question didn’t really come through in the first two games of the Flyers’ 2007-08 campaign. After they beat the Calgary Flames 3-2 in their season debut thanks to a pair of goals from Briere (who had the game-winner with 1:48 left in regulation), Philly dropped a 5-3 tilt to the Oilers. Sanderson had a two-goal game against his former club and Pitkanen scored the game-winning goal, while Lupul notched his first point in the Orange and Black with the primary helper on Jeff Carter’s first of the season. Four days later, in their third game of the season, the Flyers visited General Motors Place to take on the Vancouver Canucks, a team that recorded 105 points and reached the second round of the postseason the previous season. It was on this night that the Flyers announced they were back in a multitude of ways.

Carter opened the scoring against Vancouver by putting in a Randy Jones rebound shortly after his team killed a penalty he took for tripping. After the ensuing faceoff, Mike Richards entered the zone and backhanded a pass through three Canucks to find R.J. Umberger for the first of the forward’s 13 goals during 2007-08. Umberger’s tally came just 13 seconds after Carter’s goal to make it 2-0 for the visitors with 10:59 left in the opening frame. After Ryan Shannon cut the lead to one with a power-play marker 1:12 after Umberger’s goal, Philly responded with a power-play goal of their own a few ticks under three minutes later when Simon Gagne finished off a dominant man advantage with a dunk at the side of the net off a Briere cross-ice feed. Briere recorded a goal of his own 3:06 later, as he led a 2-on-1 with Gagne and put home a rebound after Daniel Sedin hooked the diminutive forward before he made it 4-1 for the visitors with 3:43 left in the opening frame. It could have been 5-1, but the Flyers couldn’t score on a power play in the final three minutes of the period after Mattias Ohlund went to the sin bin for a hook on Lupul.

Canucks’ head coach Alain Vigneault decided to pull Roberto Luongo after he stopped just nine of the 13 shots he faced in the first 20 minutes. In came Curtis Sanford, but the results didn’t change. A rush chance led by Richards and Umberger led to a tic-tac-toe goal by Lupul just 1:24 into Sanford’s appearance. The Canucks scored their second and final goal of the night on a power-play goal from future Flyer Lukas Krajicek exactly two minutes after Lupul’s goal to make it 5-2 Flyers early in the second period. Mike Knuble redirected a Timonen shot on the power play for Philly’s second power-play goal of the game, the first of their 19 games during the 2007-08 campaign, a season where they finished second in the league with a 21.82 percent power play, where they potted two or more power-play goals. Philadelphia wasn’t done scoring in the second period, as Briere provided another successful cross-ice pass with Richards the recipient for his first goal of the night to make it 7-2 with 3:14 left in the middle stanza.

This is where the score stood until halfway through the third period, when Jesse Boulerice decided to provide his most noteworthy moment as a Flyer. Boulerice was a right winger that played a total of 162 games in the NHL from the 2001-02 campaign until the 2008-09 season. After he took part in three games for the Orange and Black in the 2001-02 season, Boulerice spent time with the Carolina Hurricanes and the St. Louis Blues before he circled back to the Flyers for the 2007-08 season. In the second of his five-game return to the Flyers, Boulerice cross-checked Ryan Kesler right in the throat with 8:21 left in regulation. Kesler laid face down on the ice while the other Canucks on the ice made their way to Boulerice, who was handed a match penalty and eventually a 25-game suspension for the hit.

With the team already killing off Boulerice’s infraction, Timonen lifted a puck over the glass in the defensive zone to put the Flyers down two men for a full two minutes. Given a chance to, at the very least, make the score look a little more acceptable, the Canucks found a way to give up one more goal. Shannon held the puck at the point and attempted to move a pass along the blue line, but had his attempt intercepted by Richards. As Shannon and Ohlund chased the Flyers’ forward, Richards managed to slide a backhander five-hole on Sanford to finalize the score with 5:41 left in regulation.

This was Richards’ second career goal killing off a two-man advantage. His first came against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 22, 2005 and with his third goal down two men on February 15, 2009 Richards set the NHL record for most goals of this variety. His shorthanded goal on Sanford was his fourth point of the night to give him his first four-point game in the NHL.

The win improved the Flyers’ record to 2-1-0 on the season and started a five-game winning streak for the club. It was also the first of two contests during the 2007-08 season where they potted eight goals, as they also beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 8-2 on December 11, 2007 thanks to hat tricks from Lupul and Umberger. Philly finished the season 42-29-11 for 95 points, a 39-point increase from their point total in 2006-07, to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference. After they upset both the Washington Capitals in seven games and the Montreal Canadiens in five, they fell to the Pens in five games during the Eastern Conference Final. The loss to the Pens stung, but the fact they went from worst in the league to getting within three wins of the Stanley Cup Final in one season is still an accomplishment.

*Stats via Hockey Reference and NHL.com

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