This version of the Broad Street Bullies enters the Stanley Cup playing their best hockey all season. They defeated the Canadiens, who were playing great hockey coming into the series, 4-2, to eliminate Montreal. The Flyers advanced, and will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals, who swept the #1 seeded San Jose Sharks.
Eliminating the Canadiens in Game 5 is exactly what the Flyers needed to do. You didn’t want to have to go back to Montreal for a Game 6, or give them any momentum. The game didn’t start out exactly as planned, as Montreal scored 59 seconds into the game. They then went on the power play, and had an opportunity to take a 2-0 lead in the game.
They didn’t, and that particular Canadiens power play was the start of the Mike Richards show for the night. Richards plowed through a Canadiens player at the point setting up a shorthanded odd man rush that resulted in a good scoring chance for Braydon Coburn. About 30 seconds later, Claude Giroux cleared the puck out of the Flyers zone, and Richards chased after it. The puck slid into the Montreal zone, and Richards was in a race with Canadiens defenseman Roman Hamrlik to be the first to the puck. Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak then decided he wanted to be first to the puck and skated after it. What resulted was a 3 person sliding collision which sent Richards, the puck, and Halak’s goalie stick towards the net. Richards got up, avoided Halak’s stick, and put the puck into the back of the net.
This was just the beginning of Mike Richards playing the “I’m not going to let this team lose this game” role. That is what a captain should do in a big game like this, and Richards was up to the task. The Flyers added 2 goals in the 2nd, one on a nice pass by Matt Carle, which left Arron Asham in front of the net by himself. He made a nice move, and beat Halak. Just over a minute later, the Flyers showed great puck movement, including an unreal behind the net pass from Richards to Jeff Carter, who put a shot over Halak’s shoulder.
Of course the game had to be nerve racking though, as Montreal scored just 7 minutes into the 3rd period, and the Flyers had to hold off a desperate Canadiens team for most of the rest of the game. They did just that, as the defense played well, and Michael Leighton played well down the stretch, and another fabulous Mike Richards play led to a Jeff Carter empty net goal. Mike Richards played his best game in a while, and it was especially important for him to do this in such a big game. Richards is the captain of the team, and the leader, and he showed why on Monday. He was not going to let the Flyers lose that game, and was a beast on almost every shift of his.
Richards had a solid game, Arron Asham had a number of chances, and the defense and Leighton was solid. The first goal was a little bit of lazy defense, but also a goal that Michael Leighton could have saved. After this point though, Leighton was solid. The fans were amazing as always, as Philadelphia fans always are, and were rewarded with getting to watch the Flyers celebrate a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. If the Flyers can win this Stanley Cup, it would be one of the more memorable seasons in Philadelphia sports history, and one of the best coaching performances by Peter Laviolette in these playoffs.
This was a great win, but the goal is to win the Stanley Cup, so there is still plenty of work to be done. As good as the Flyers are playing right now, which they are, the Blackhawks have been a great team wire to wire. They were the #2 seed in the Western Conference, which is a stronger conference than the East, and could have easily been the #1 seed. Instead, they took it to the #1 seeded Sharks in the Western Conference Finals. The Blackhawks feature 3 solid lines, come at you in waves, have star players on offense and defense, and also have a hot goaltender, much like the Flyers. It will not be easy, but it should be a very good Stanley Cup Finals.