Monday, 26 December 2011

Top 11 Flyers Moments

Its been awhile since I posted, but I've been busy finishing school and working for other websites and this blog has been my lowest priority so I put it on the back-burner. With the alumni game and Winter Classic coming up fast, I thought a good way to bring this back would be to count down my favorite Flyers moments ever. These are not the best moments in team history, rather my personal favorite moments. I wanted to do a top 10 list, but I just couldn't figure out which moment to leave off, so let's get this started with number 11.

11. Feb. 12, 2007, Keith Primeau Night, Flyers 6 vs. Red Wings 1
The first of several moments on this list to include Keith Primeau was one of the few bright spots from the 2006-07 season, the worst in franchise history. Few represented Flyers hockey the way Primeau did for six seasons. He was never the most skilled player, but always one of the hardest working and his play during the 2004 run to the Eastern Conference final is the stuff legends are made of. When he was forced to retire due to concussions, the Flyers lost a great leader and they honored him before a game against the Red Wings, the team that drafted Primeau third overall back in 1990, two spots ahead of Jaromir Jagr. The Red Wings would tie Buffalo for the league lead with 113 points that season, 57 ahead of the last place Flyers. But you would not have known that on this night.

It was an emotional game from the get-go thanks to Primeau's pre-game speech. As tough a player as there is, he had a hard time making it through the entire speech and the crowd gave him several standing ovations. Michael Leighton was in net for the Flyers as part of a four-game stint with the team that season and I remember hoping he would never have anything to do with the Flyers again. Funny how things turn out sometimes. The score was knotted at one going into the third period and my thought process was Hey, as long as we don't get annihilated, its a good game for us. Then there was a third-period explosion of offense as the Flyers played probably their best period of the season, putting five goals behind Joey MacDonald. Capping the offense was this beauty by Todd Fedoruk.

10. Jan. 1, 2010, Winter Classic, Flyers 1 @ Bruins 2, OT
Every Winter Classic has been special, but this one was an almost perfect setup. My favorite team growing up playing just down the road from where I went to school. It was an amazing atmosphere, probably the best weather at any Classic so far and it was a highly physical game. Having the Dropkick Murphys play "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" was a great sight as well. It may be odd that a game as epic as a Classic isn't higher on the list, but this is not a list of the best hockey moments, it's the best Flyers moments and, well, they lost.

The game was highlighted by the first fight in Winter Classic history as Dan Carcillo took on Shawn Thornton before drawing the ire of the crowd by giving them a rocker salute on his way to the box. There was also Danny Syvret's first career goal which was fortunate as Tim Thomas was too busy dealing with Hartnell in front of the net. It was an off season for Thomas who dealt with hip issues all year, but he showed up big for that game and stymied the Flyers shooters all game. It was former Flyer Mark Recchi who tied the game, allowing Marco Sturm to score the overtime winner.

9. April 17, 2004, Conference Quarterfinal Game 5, Flyers 3 vs. Devils 1
This was a really nerve-wracking game even though the Flyers had controlled the series to that point. But this was the Devils and, after losing the two previous series against them, including blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2000 Eastern Conference final, this series was huge. Even without Scott Stevens, the Devils still had Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez, all in their prime.

The game was tied at one with just over five minutes remaining when Danny Markov, who combined with fellow mid-season acquisition Vladimir Malakhov to form the Flyers' best defensive pairing of the playoffs, threw an innocent wrist shot on net from just inside the blueline that fooled Brodeur, when off the pipe and in. It wasn't enough that they just won the series, it was that they finally exorcised their demons and beat the Devils in the playoffs.

8. April 22, 2003, Conference Quarterfinal Game 7, Flyers 6 vs. Maple Leafs 1
This remains the only Game 7 I have ever been to. This series was an epic battle that featured three multi-overtime games and was one of the longest series ever played in terms of total minutes. It was a physical battle and there were some odd moments including a goal allowed by Roman Cechmanek where he was trying to put his glove back on, a penalty shot by Robert Reichel who blasted a slapshot straight into Cechmanek's chest and a freak injury to Alex Mogilny which ended up helping the Flyers as he had the hottest stick in the series.

Anything can happen in a Game 7, especially when Cechmanek is your goalie, but I never thought the game would be such a drubbing. Justin Williams, Recchi and, figure this one out, Claude Lapointe each had three points and the Flyers won 6-1. For a team that had been eliminated in embarrassing fashion in the two previous Springs, it was great to see them win a round so convincingly.

7. Feb. 15, 2001, Meeting Dave Schultz, Flyers 5 vs. Maple Leafs 2
This one makes me laugh every time I think about it. For those of you who don't know, this is Dave Schultz. Before the game, which honestly I hardly remember and can't find a boxscore to, there was an alumni signing. I was only 11 at the time, so I didn't recognize anyone yet, other than Bernie Parent who is at every Flyers game. So I'm going through the line and I get to the third guy. I hand him my program and that's when I notice he has two Stanley Cup rings on. Two! So naturally I ask "Hey, can I have one?" I didn't get an answer, just a dirty look as he signed my program. Sheepishly I start walking away when he called me back.

"Hey kid. You can have the ring if you can get it off my finger."

Well Dave, if the offer still stands, I think I'm ready to take you on now.

6. May 12, 2010, Conference Semifinal Game 6, Flyers 2 vs. Bruins 1
When this series started, I was just hoping it would last long enough to be able to go to a game. The way the schedule worked, I would be driving home during Game 5. Both teams were so evenly matched I though for sure I would get to go to at least one game during the playoffs. Then they went down 3-0 and the best I could really hope for was they didn't get swept. Simon Gagne helped me out a lot by potting the overtime winner in Game 4, then I was able to listen to the Flyers beat the Bruins 4-1 in Game 5 while driving home, one of only two game during the series that was decided by more than one goal.

The Philly faithful was rocking all night and even though the comeback was only half complete to start the game, everyone in the building could sense the series would not end that night. Mike Richards opened the scoring just under seven minutes into the game on a scramble in front and Danny Briere netted the winner on a snipe over Tuukka Rask's glove in the second period. Leighton played a spectacular game, including a big save on a Trent Whitfield breakaway when the score was still 1-0 and not allowing a goal until there was a minute to go in the game. Yes, the Bruins got their poetic justice the next season, sweeping the Flyers out of the playoffs in convincing fashion, but that series will always be a lasting memory.

5. May 24, 2010, Conference Final Game 5, Flyers 4 vs. Canadiens 2
This may be the best game Mike Richards ever played in a Flyers uniform. His entire shift that led to the first Flyers goal was absolutely brilliant and he was physical all game long. Arron Asham also played great, getting several quality scoring chances and was a force on the forecheck all game. Really, I may have been more nervous heading into that game than any other I have been to. Jaroslav Halak was playing out of his mind in the first two rounds and there was no reason to think he wouldn't be able to stymie the Flyers like he did the powerhouse Capitals and Penguins; I simply was not going to be satisfied until the series was over.

The game seemed to take forever, but there was a huge wave of relief when it was over and Richards lifted the Prince of Wales Trophy. Sure, many say you shouldn't touch it, but it really doesn't matter when half of the teams that refuse to touch the conference championship trophy lose anyway and this was a long time coming. It was the Flyers' fourth trip to the conference final since 1997 and they had yet to get back to the final.

4. Feb. 21, 2004, Fan Appreciation Day, Flyers 5 vs. Thrashers 4
It's funny, I didn't see the entire third period of this game and I could only listen to the crowd roar as Simon Gagne won the game on a penalty shot with 1:01 remaining. The game was pretty exciting, especially seeing Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk work their magic. But it was after the game that made this day so memorable. It was fan appreciation day and among the many prizes given out was a chance to win a game-used jersey after the game during a shirt-off-the-player's-back ceremony. As luck would have it, my seat was called during the game and me and 20 other winners got to watch from a private area before heading to the bowels of the Wachovia Center.

When the game ended the red carpet was rolled out and the winners headed onto the ice after given a card we would all open later to see which player's jersey we had won. I was the third person in line and when it was my turn, Lauren Hart asked me my name (listening to her try to repeat my last name was the first time I though maybe I should just start going by my first name only) and told me to open the card. Sure enough, there was a big 25 there. I won Primeau's jersey. The captain, the leader, the heart and soul of the team.

The only downside was he wasn't playing that day; he wasn't even at the game because of consussions so Recchi skated over with a jersey that would be mailed to me later when Primeau was finally able to sign it. I have the jersey hanging in my basement right now, easily one of the coolest things I own. The only bad thing wasn't that I didn't get a freshly worn (and by fresh I mean sweaty) jersey, it was that I was never able to thank him for it. I really hope to meet him one day, just to give him the thanks he deserves, not just for the jersey, but for everything he did for the franchise.

3. May 20, 2004, Conference Final Game 6, Flyers 5 vs. Lightning 4, OT
That jersey was great by itself, but it certainly jumped in value during the 2004 playoff run. Primeau had seven goals in 54 regular season games that year and just nine in 110 playoff games in his career. He would dominate in the postseason, recording nine goals and 16 points in only 18 games. He hit everything that moved, recorded three game-winning goals, two shorthanded goals and was a plus-11. Everything culminated for him in that Game 6, a must-win for the Flyers to force Game 7 in Tampa Bay.

The game didn't go smoothly as three of the four Tampa Bay goals should have been stopped by Rob Esche, but that allowed for one of the most dramatic endings in Flyers history. Primeau's goal to tie the game at four was astounding. He danced around the net like a gazelle, slamming home the deflection off his own foot. That in turn set up the game-winner by Simon Gagne. I was nine rows behind that net and when I saw the puck drop behind the goal line, I just went nuts. Unfortunately the Flyers would lose Game 7 in Tampa Bay, but that does nothing to diminish what an amazing game it was. It was easily the best game of Primeau's career and has to be considered one of the best individual performances of the past decade.

2. June 2, 2010, Stanley Cup Final Game 3, Flyers 4 vs. Blackhawks 3, OT
The Stanley Cup final, there is no better spectacle in pro sports. The Flyers lost the first two games in Chicago and they weren't about to try and work their way back from 3-0 down again, so this was a must-win Game 3.

Briere opened the scoring, but it was a brilliant pass from Scott Hartnell who threw the puck to the open side of the net while falling down (what else is new?) that set up the play. Duncan Keith scored on a laser from the point just a few minutes before Hartnell put the Flyers back on top on a strange power play goal. He deflected a shot in front of the net and the puck just barely made it across the goal line, but since the ref didn't see it, play continued on for a few more minutes. When there was finally a stoppage in play, they were able to look at it again and determine the puck did cross the line. It just barely did, but sometimes just barely is good enough. Things looked good for the Flyers, but Brent Sopel scored at the end of the period on another long shot. Patrick Kane took all of the air out of the crowd when he scored on a breakaway to put the Hawks up 3-2 just 2:50 into the third, but the place erupted when Ville Leino tied the game just 20 seconds later, putting home a rebound off the rush.

Chris Pronger was as physical as ever, leveling Jonathan Toews in the first period and Leighton, despite giving up three goals, kept the Flyers in the game for long stretches as the Blackhawks dominated play. Giroux almost single handedly got the Flyers back in the series with three points, including the overtime winner, tipping in a shot from Matt Carle by Antti Niemi. It was a picture-perfect finish to a Stanley Cup final game and it gave the Flyers new life in the series. The overtime was short, but thrilling as Gagne almost won the game when he snapped a shot off the post that trickled across the goal line, but never crossed it. It was only a few minutes later they won the game for real.

1. March 10, 2011, Postgame, Flyers 3 @ Maple Leafs 2
The game itself wasn't anything special, a pretty good regular season game, but the only memorable play was the bad goal allowed by James Reimer. Rather it was after the game that made this so special.

I was interning with The Hockey News at the time so I was able to watch from the pressbox. And as if that wasn't cool enough, I was also able to go to the locker room after the game and talk to the players for an issue of Fully Loaded. It was an amazing experience seeing these guys off the ice, from the sarcasm and good-natured (well, sort of) ribbing from Pronger to THN senior writer Ken Campbell before the game to the fire, passion and enthusiasm of Carcillo who wanted nothing more than to get back at Mike Komisarek who boarded him just a few minutes into the game. Unfortunately for Carcillo, Komisarek also received a game misconduct in addition to his major for boarding, so he would have to wait for their next meeting to get his revenge.

One-on-one, I was able to talk to Brian Boucher, Briere and Hartnell. Boucher was pretty humble, almost surprised I wanted to talk to him for the magazine. I was trying to find out what players did in their spare time in the summer, what hobbies or big toys they might have. Briere was a good interviewee, he gave me some pretty good content and was happy to talk to me. And of course there was Hartnell's reaction to me wanting to interview him, giving me a minute to talk to him before changing his mind and giving me 30 seconds instead. Fortunately I was able to get everything I needed from them, though only Briere's comments actually made it into the magazine.

Of course, I have to give an honorable mention to Jeremy Roenick dressing up as Bobby Clarke for Halloween back in 2002. Each moment was amazing in its own way, but nothing beats being able to interview the guys you grew up cheering for. There are going to be two more moments added to this list in the next week, it's just a matter of how high they go. That of course depends on the score and tone of the game, but there shouldn't be any problem with that as it will certainly be a physical game, maybe the toughest battle of any Classic yet.