BOSTON -- Epic comeback or epic choke?
However it's analyzed, the Philadelphia Flyers took 3-0 deficits to the Boston Bruins -- both in the second round and at TD Garden Friday night -- and turned them into 4-3 Game 7 and series victories. The Flyers join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders as the only teams to drop the first three games of a best-of-seven series and wind up on top -- although neither of those teams came back from as large of a deficit in a Game 7 as the Flyers.
"It's unbelievable to be part of something like that," said Flyers forward Simon Gagne, who scored the game-winner in only his fourth game since returning from surgery to repair a broken toe. "All the guys are happy to be part of something big like that. We didn't do it the easy way, but we are part of history now."
To get there, the Bruins did offer some help. Gagne's fourth goal (and second game-winner) of the series came with seven minutes remaining in regulation as Boston attempted to kill off a too many men on the ice penalty.
Bruins forward Mark Recchi, who is now 4-4 in his long NHL career in Game 7 situations, said the penalty "was a terrible call," especially so late in a decisive game. But Recchi admitted the Bruins have only themselves to blame to even be in that situation.
"Killer instinct was missing," Recchi said. "Desperation at the end of a first period to not allow them to score, which I think is imperative and it didn't happen. What are you going to do?"
Milan Lucic said there was something lacking since Game 3 concluded.
"There was definitely some complacency, that is for sure," It's something that we are going to have to deal with for the whole summer.
The Flyers appeared to have wasted whatever momentum they had built over the last three games with two ill-advised penalties early in the first period.
First, Scott Hartnell was called for high-sticking Boston defenseman Matt Hunwick in the neutral zone five minutes into the game. Eight seconds later, the Bruins had a 1-0 lead after Michael Ryder tipped in a Zdeno Chara blast that went off the pads of Flyers goalie Michael Leighton.
Not long afterward, Daniel Briere high-sticked Boston defenseman Dennis Wideman, who was fighting for the puck in back of his own net. It didn't come nearly as quickly as the first power-play goal, but Lucic scored the Bruins' 11th goal of the playoffs with the extra man.
So are the Bruins, who were an overtime goal away in Game 4 of a series sweep.
Lucic made it 3-0, this time at even-strength, to equal the Bruins' largest lead of series. A timeout by Flyers coach Peter Laviolette followed a moment later.
"We talked before the game that we didn't want to be in the box all night," Hartnell said. "Lo and behold, we go out there take two high sticking penalties and we were down 3-0. The timeout just settled us down. He told stay out of the box, not in those [exact] words. We did that. We worked hard. We got our own power plays."
Recchi pointed to James Van Riemsdyk's goal with 2:49 left in the first period did more than just cut Bruins' lead to two.
"It gave them some life," Recchi said. "I think that we made a couple mistakes on that goal that ended up costing us. When you have a 3-0 lead with two minutes left in the first period you have to clamp down and we didn't. They got lucky."
The two high-stickers -- Hartnell and Briere -- redeemed themselves with second-period goals to tie the game.
As the Flyers began to think about taking on Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bruins joined the Detroit Red Wings (1942) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (1975) as the clubs who surrendered 3-0 series leads.
"Well, I wouldn't say we choked," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "We had a chance to close it out in overtime. Then they took it to us in the next game and then the next two games were awfully close. It could have gone either way in the last two games. If you want to say we choked, I'm proud of the way we battled and I'm just in shock that we're not playing anymore."