The Flyers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last night for the first time since 2004 with a 6-4 victory over the Canadiens in Montreal. After losing the first game of the series in OT, the Flyers rebounded by winning four straight and taking the series in five games.
After never trailing in any game of the entire series (in regulation) the Flyers found themselves behind 1-0 and 3-1 in the first and second periods. RJ Umberger erased the first deficit with his eighth goal of the playoffs (seventh of the series) at the 10:20 mark in the first period. Amazingly, Umberger scored the first Flyers’ goal in each of the five games of the series.
Montreal was able to respond right away after Umberger’s goal when Alexei Kovalev scored 1:08 later to make it 2-1. After Christopher Higgins scored his third goal of the playoffs 8:15 seconds into the second period, the Flyers faced their first two-goal deficit of the series 3-1. But again, a resilient Flyers team in a span of 2:58 were able to erase the difference and take the lead with goals from Mike Richards (4), Umberger (9), and Scott Hartnell (3) The Flyers headed to the second intermission up 4-3.
Montreal answered 2:13 into the third period when Andrei Kostitsyn tied up the game with his fifth goal of the playoffs. The period remained tied for a little more than 14 minutes with both teams having a shot to take the lead. Daniel Briere had a scoring chance on a clean breakaway, but slid the puck wide right and Canadien Guillaume Latendresse rung one off the post with under five minutes left in the third period.
Finally, with 3:04 left, Scottie Upshall redirected a Jeff Carter shot with the blade of his stick sending it past Carey Price for the game-winning goal. Mike Knuble added an empty-netter at the end giving the Flyers a 6-4 victory.
Scottie Upshall’s game-winning goal was an example of the great hand eye coordination that NHL hockey players have. I once had a friend tell me that redirecting a puck was all luck. I won’t name any names, but his name was Chad. Chad couldn’t have been more wrong. This is an amazing skill that hockey players possess. A hockey puck can be driven to the net up to and over 100 mph. I’m aware that Jeff Carter’s blast was not traveling nearly that fast, but to be able to change the direction of the puck and put it on the net is something that should be admired. There are many hockey players that have mastered this skill (San Jose’s Jonathan Cheechoo to name one) and Upshall’s goal exemplified the perfection of this art.
Upshall had this to say about his game-winner, “It was a great feeling. A tie game with three minutes left, it’s anybody’s game, it’s one shot, it’s one bounce. [Carter] made a great shot on net. I was in the lane to see the puck and I thought I could get a stick on it and redirect it, and to get a big goal like that is pretty uplifting for your spirits.”
Marty Biron didn’t have the best game of the series, but came up with huge stops in the third period and turned away 31 shots overall. Marty leads all goaltenders in the playoffs with eight wins and remains the only netminder to have played in every single minute of every game.
And how huge has RJ Umberger been for the Flyers? Umberger scored two more goals and leads the Flyers with nine playoff goals. Last night was his 26th birthday and he played like a man possessed and he clearly is playing to capture the Cup, “I’m just going to take a moment, enjoy it but stay focused. There’s plenty of time after it’s over to celebrate it and enjoy it, but right now we have one thing on our minds.”
This season for the Flyers has been an amazing turnaround. Philadelphia finished the 2006-07 season last overall in the NHL with 56 points, the lowest total in team history. They finished this year with 95 points and it even came down to the last week of the regular season before they were able to clinch a playoff spot. And now they await the winner of the Penguins/Rangers series to see who they will play in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Penguins lead the series three games to one.
Nothing is more exciting than the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you haven’t already, jump on board.