VOORHEES, N.J. (AP)—After the Philadelphia Flyers finally fell asleep, following a history-making night in Boston, they were relieved to learn upon waking up that their incredible comeback against the Bruins really happened.
No alarm clocks ruined a dream. No jolt of reality spoiled what almost seemed too good to be true for the NHL’s latest—and greatest—comeback kids.
Then they put it all behind them. Or so they said.
“We had our celebrations in the locker room,” goalie Michael Leighton(notes) said Saturday of Friday’s Game 7 win. “On the plane it was more just thinking about what we just did. It was kind of quiet, but you knew everybody was happy. I think everyone was just sitting back in their seat reading a book or listening to music or looking up at the ceiling on the plane thinking, ‘What did we just do?’ That was amazing.”
The upstart Montreal Canadiens are all that stand between the Flyers and their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since 1997. Philadelphia had only one day to shake off the aftereffects of Boston Game 7 before facing the Canadiens Sunday night.
“It’s probably the hottest team right now and probably the most dangerous team left in the playoffs,” Montreal forward Scott Gomez(notes) said Saturday before the Canadiens flew to Philadelphia. “You kind of wish they got a little break there because they’re rolling right now.”
The Flyers rallied from 3-0 down on Friday in Game 7 to win 4-3—capping a comeback from 3-0 down in the series against Boston. Philadelphia is the third NHL team to wipe away such a deficit and win, and the fourth overall in major North American sports.
“When I got home (Friday) night, I turned the sports on and they had on a replay of the game,” said forward Scott Hartnell(notes), who scored Philadelphia’s second goal. “They had ‘God Bless America,’ and I just kind of got chills watching it because I knew what the outcome of the game was. I didn’t watch the whole game, although I probably should have.”
Montreal, the NHL leader with 24 Stanley Cup titles, is in the conference finals for the first time since its last championship in 1993.
If Philadelphia gets caught snoozing now, it could be left on the wayside by Montreal the same way championship contenders Washington and Pittsburgh were in the first two rounds.
“We’re proud of what we did, but at the same time after talking about it today, we have to focus on the Montreal Canadiens,” said forward Simon Gagne(notes), who made a quick return from injury and scored the winning goal in Games 4 and 7 against Boston. “It might be tough, but we have to do it.”
The Canadiens and Flyers split four games during the season, with Philadelphia holding a slim 10-8 advantage in goals. With both clubs fighting for playoff spots down the stretch, Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak(notes) made 35 saves in a 1-0 victory at Philadelphia on April 2.
Halak was the difference on defense for the Canadiens’ in their back-to-back, seven-game series wins. Michael Cammalleri(notes) has powered the offense with an NHL-best 12 playoff goals. He scored seven against the Penguins.
The Flyers got into the playoffs with a shootout win over the New York Rangers on the last day of the season. Montreal earned its spot the night before, but had to settle for the No. 8 seed.
“It’s easy to hate the Flyers,” Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill(notes) said. “They’ve been the Broad Street Bullies. Their fans are loud and obnoxious. If you’re from Philly, that’s great. If you’re not, you hate them. It’s fun to hate the Flyers, just like it’s fun for them to hate our fans and our team. It should be a good series as far as hate goes.”
As surprising as their rallies and Boston’s collapses were, the fact that the seventh-seeded Flyers have home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference finals is nearly as improbable.
Only the unexpected run by No. 8 seed Montreal through No. 1 Washington and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh made that possible for a bottom two-seed matchup never before seen in the NHL.
The Flyers stayed off the ice as they began preparing for the Canadiens, who practiced in Montreal.
One by one Philadelphia’s major players filed into an interview room wearing variations of baseball caps, shorts and comfortable shoes. Coach Peter Laviolette went with sandals. Hulking defenseman Chris Pronger(notes) was barefoot after logging nearly 32 minutes of ice time in Game 7.
They all wore smiles and similar looks of disbelief.
Montreal has had a few extra days to get ready for the East finals. The Canadiens eliminated Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and then waited until Friday night to learn where they would open the next round.
The Flyers are dealing with a quick turnaround this time, a sharp contrast to their eight-day layoff after beating New Jersey in five games in the first round.
“He’s not ready to play, that’s why he didn’t skate,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said Saturday. “His situation hasn’t changed. It’s indefinite.”