Last night at the Wachovia Center, nearly 20,000 Flyers fans showed up, not for a wake, but for a resurrection.
It could have been ugly. There could have been a tentative building, with fans sitting tensely in dread of elimination. But no. The fans, most dressed in their spanking new Megadeath Security t-shirts, were fully engaged from before the puck dropped, roaring their approval of the Flyers playoff efforts and demanding that the real Flyers show up. And show up they did.
From the beginning the Flyers looked much more like the team we’d seen through the last few weeks of the season and the first two series of the playoffs. Unlike games one through three, when the Pens seemed to get to every puck, the Flyers were winning the races to the puck and winning the battles on the boards.
The first goal by Joffrey Lupul was a laser from the point. Yes, it deflected off of Hal Gill’s stick. But still, that kind of shot with that kind of pace is the shot that Lupul has when he’s ready to go on a hot streak. That goal and Lupul’s play throughout the game had me wondering if the Flyers may have a miracle up their sleeves.
The second goal by Danny Briere, a scooping shot on a fat rebound as he went sprawling in front of the crease on a power play, was the kind of crazy highlight reel goal that would have the SportsCenter and OnTheFly guys wowowing for weeks if he was named Ovechkin or Crosby. I’ll just have to do the wowowing for them I guess. But it showed that Stevens’s move to put Mike Richards on that line gave Briere the time and space he wasn’t getting earlier in the series (when he was playing on a line with Prospal, the floating asterisk).
The first period ended with a Jeff Carter power play goal with just 1:10 left to the delight of a crowd that was hoping to rock its way through a laugher.
Well, of course, the boys in black and orange never make anything easy. And after a pretty even second period, the Penguins Jordan Staal (what hockey genes those boys have) scored early in the third. With the game at 3-1 the Flyers old tentative-on-the-lead ways reappeared. But the fans never bought into the fear. The crowd was loud, rowdy, and extremely supportive. If a team can be willed to a win, this crowd plans to do that. And they were on their feet multiple times in the last five minutes of the game. Although Staal scored again with a little over 3 minutes left, the Flyers, sometimes very scary against an empty net, got a payoff from Lupul again, who closed the scoring.
The game wouldn’t have been complete without a decent fight. Just 10 seconds after the empty netter, Darien Hatcher, who is a complete berserker when he fights, tuned Ryan Malone rather dramatically.
A challenge from Crosby to Richards (not to fight, exactly, because Crosby’s gloves are apparently attached to strings through his jersey like a small boy’s mittens [credit that image to my friend FlySkippy]) ended the game on a high for the Flyers faithful, who are almost as happy to see Sydney depend on the zebras for protection from the big bad Mike Richards as they would be to see Richie tune Cindy.
Flyers fans left the building on a high, hoping for one more chance to cheer the boys on to victory. Will they get it? Well, did they put a bit of doubt in the heads of the Penguins? Will Coburn, Timonen, or both play on Sunday, boosting morale and deepening the skill level at defense? Biron definitely showed up in the form he’d had earlier in the playoffs. The team gained confidence and played with passion and commitment, if they can do that again, there’s no reason they can’t.