Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Where did you watch the Flyers game last night? A bar? Your house? Maybe even somewhere in the Wachovia Center? That's nice. Me? I watched the game from ice level, son. Section 120, row 2, seats 1 and 2. That's where uncle jellyfish and I were, directly behind the glass back and to the right of Michael Leighton in periods 1 and 3.
It's certainly the closest I've ever sat at a hockey game, and it was fucking awesome. The Wachovia Center was rocking from the moment we entered the building. And as we walked down to our seats, I started to get goosebumps. I've been to plenty of Flyers games before, hell, plenty of playoff games — same goes for the Sixers, Phillies and Eagles — but I've never been right there on the glass, able to pound the boards and see the players up close and personal. Now I was sitting there in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Awesome.
There was Don Cherry, doing his pregame business right there in front of us.
There were the players, firing away on the net to prepare. Excitement was in the air, and I was marveling at the size of the players during warmups. And the linesmen. Holy shit are those guys big. I remember Bill Clement and Jim Jackson discussing how big the linesmen usually are, but it's hard to really envision their size until you see them right in front of you. Huge. Though not as huge as Chris Pronger and Hal Gill. Those are two massive human beings.
Anyway, out came Lauren Hart to our right, out to sing the Canadian national anthem and God Bless America.
That was it, time to get this thing under way. I was amped, fired up, ready to go all out. And for the first few shifts, so were the Flyers, playing down in Montreal's end for the first couple shifts or so. But that was about it. From there, the Canadiens began firing shot after shot after shot on Leighton, right in front of us. Montreal was desperate, knowing full well a 2-0 series deficit was nothing they wanted to face, and the pressure was on. They outplayed the Flyers, plain and simple. On the rare occasions Philadelphia was able to get a shot away on Jaroslav Halak, it was one and done. However, when the Flyers went to the man advantage, they didn't waste it.
Just over 2 minutes in, Lukas Krajicek got called for slashing. Blair Betts did a phenomenal job all night winning defensive-zone draws on the penalty kill, and the Flyers were in the midst of killing off the penalty when Scott Gomez got his stick in the mid-section of a Flyer and hauled him down. Thanks, you Alaskan bastard. Man, I hate Scott Gomez. Lucky for us so far, he's been doing far more bad things, like said penalty, than good. It's safe to say he kinda sucks now. And I love it. Shortly after Krajicek made his way out of the box, Claude fed Danny Briere with a backhanded pass, and Briere continued to be a playoff beast, sniping one past Halak, 1-0 Flyers.
We were at the other end of the ice, literally lined up with Briere as he shot. I couldn't see it quite go in, but I knew it had, even before the fans at the other end reacted. You just get that feeling with Danny Briere when he has the puck on his stick these days. He's been unreal.
Here the Flyers were, getting an early goal to take the lead, but Montreal wasn't laying down. Not in the slightest. They kept coming in waves, taking it to Philadelphia shift after shift. Thankfully, Michael Leighton was on his game. Big time. The guy has really been remarkable. Back when he got on a hot streak and helped turn the Flyers' season around, I still wasn't incredibly impressed with his play. Yes, he was stopping shots and putting up good numbers, but he seemed to lose sight of the puck quite a bit. Not anymore. Not since taking over for a fallen Brian Boucher. In these playoffs, he's been in complete control, anticipating every play and seeing the puck at all times. Last night was more of the same. Leighton was always in perfect position, always square to the shooter, always ready to make the save. And he did. Time and time again. Right in front of us. And he made one in that first period, a late kick save through traffic, that we have no idea how he even saw. It was beautiful. Michael Leighton looks like Patrick Roy right now, like Bernie Parent. Last night, the Flyers needed him to.
The Canadiens fired the rubber at Leighton 16 times in that first period, and Leighton stopped every single one of them. The Flyers defense was getting pinned, but they weren't panicking. Any rebound Leighton let loose, they were there to clear it. Any traffic came toward the crease, they were there to make room for their goaltender. And many of those 16 shots came from far out or tough angles. But still, the Canadiens were putting the pressure on. I was happy to get to intermission with a 1-0 lead.
After reliving Leighton's kick save right in front of us, the second period finally began. Unfortunately, it was more of the same. The play was now mostly down at the other end of the ice, but still, no go for Montreal. Everywhere a Canadien turned, there was a defenseman to thwart him or Leighton there to deny him. Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn were awesome, putting pressure on puck-handlers, denying the blue line, pinching on every play. That duo was outstanding, and Coburn, a guy who I've been very down on this year, was arguably the best defenseman on the night. He and Kimmo certainly were the best pairing. It's nice to see Coburn stepping his game up in the postseason.
Though the play wasn't down our end all that much, we did get a up close and personal view of Scott Hartnell hitting Danny Briere with a perfect pass. It looked as though Briere had a slam dunk goal, but he kind flubbed it or missed it, and the puck went wide of the net. We thought for sure it was an easy goal. But for once, Danny Briere didn't have the magic touch.
No matter. The other Flyer on fire did, as with less than five minutes remaining in the 2nd and the Flyers clinging to that one-goal lead, Simon Gagne rung the bell.
On the power play once again, this time thanks to a holding penalty by that other former New Jersey Devil midget Brian Gionta, Simon fought for the puck behind the goal line. It got to Richards literally right in front of us. He fed Ville Leino in front with a beautiful pass, and we all could see Leino finishing the play for a goal. It was all set up. When he didn't, there was a momentary moan, but it didn't last very long, because directly in front of us, we saw Gagne pounce on the rebound and stuff it home.
It was pandemonium. I jumped out of my seat, propelling myself forward, literally slamming both my shits on the seat in front of me. 2-0 Flyers. In a game that they were getting outplayed, getting outshot 26-13 after two periods, the Flyers held a lead. And to add to the joy, I received about 50 million text messages alerting me that the Sixers got the 2nd pick in draft. Evan Turner, here we come!
Talk about a great night for Philadelphia. Adam EatShit and I were joking that with the Sixers sending Jrue Holiday to represent them at the lottery, Jrue was praying for anything but the first pick. He got his wish, and the best-case scenario. Awesome. Even funnier, Adam EatShit, who was also at the game, saw Jason Smith of the 76ers there in attendance and started talking to him. Something about his neighbor in Manayunk (yes, Jason Smith lives in Manayunk) is friends with Adam, and he and Jason went to the game. Smith told Adam that he wished as many fans showed up to Sixers games. Now with Evan Turner on the horizon, maybe some will. But that's a discussion for another day. This is all about the Flyers.
During that 2nd intermission, a woman who is a season-ticket holder the row to the right and behind us came down and asked us if we would mind not standing up so much. She was very nice about it, but kind of annoying at the same time, telling us she knows the season ticket holder whose tickets we have, and he never stands up and blocks her vision. Listen, lady, this is the playoffs, playoff hockey. We paid good money to sit in incredible seats, to witness a playoff game in the Eastern Conference finals. We were damn well going to make sure we could see the puck. And it's not like we were standing around blocking people's views. When the puck went into the left corner along the boards, uncle jellyfish and I would lean over a bit to try and see the play. That's it. Those were the only times we were getting up even slightly, except for when the goals occurred. Uncle jellyfish kindly told her he wasn't going to apologize for watching the game. If you want to never even move and still see everything, stay the fuck home. I'd understand if we were being assholes and holding up signs the whole time or standing throughout play, but that wasn't the case. You don't sit on your hands in the playoffs, season-ticket holder or not.
I wasn't about to give two shits about this lady's feelings and continued to go about watching the game. And while the first two periods were clearly owned by the Canadiens in every aspect but the scoreboard, the third period was different. Montreal looked like a team that was defeated. The Flyers had some jump in their skates, finally mustering up the pressure that had been absent most of the first two periods. And with a 2-0 lead, that's a dangerous thing. The Giroux-Asham-JVR line was awesome, spending large chunks of time in Montreal's end. That trio has really come on strong this season, especially in the playoffs. The numbers may not bear that out, but their play on the ice sure as shit does.
Blair Betts and Darroll Powe were awesome on the PK all night, as Betts continued to win big draws and play great defense, and Powe continued to hit anything that moved. Andrea Nodl continued to do a great job hustling out there, also forechecking hard with Powe and Betts. And all the rest of lines continued to hum too, especially in the third.
Then the Flyers put the game away for good as Ville Leino streaked up the ice and just floated a wrister from a bad angle and far distance toward Halak. That's when the Montreal goaltender, who had played so well against Washington and Pittsburgh and had been so tremendous in games following getting pulled (7-1-1), let in one of the softest goals I've seen.
That was all she wrote. The Flyers were going up 2-0 in the series, and the place was going nuts. The only question that remained is could Leighton post a second consecutive shutout. That's what we all wanted to see, and that's what we got. Leighton had already stopped 26 shots heading into the final period, and he was only asked to stop four more in the third. He did, one in spectacular fashion.
Mission accomplished. Shutout intact.
Michael Leighton has now gone eight consecutive periods without giving up a goal, going all the way back to the first period of game 7 against Boston. The Flyers have scored 13 unanswered goals. They are outscoring Montreal 9-0 through two games. And even on a night when the Canadiens were the better team for 40 minutes, the Flyers still found a way to win. Michael Leighton was the best player on the ice, stopping all 30 shots he faced and never once looking lost in net. Danny Briere and Simon Gagne continued to score and score and score, carrying this team offensively. Coburn had maybe his best game ever. Kimmo was a warrior as always. The penalty kill was outstanding, the power play clicking and the team getting stronger as the game wore on, just as this team has gotten stronger as these playoffs go on.
We stayed and soaked in it. We watched Kimmo come out as third star, Gagne as second star and Leighton, as if there was ever a doubt, as the first star. We headed to the AT&T Pavilion for a some post-game beers. We enjoyed every last minute of it. I've always wanted to sit on the glass. Technically, I was in the second row, but I was able to touch it any time I wanted, in a playoff game no less. And more important than any of that, I was there again as the Flyers got another huge playoff victory.
Six more wins. Just six more.
LET'S GO FLYERS!!!!!!!