After game two in Philadelphia, the Flyers find themselves in similar territory that they faced in last year’s conference semifinals. After a 3-2 overtime defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins, they now face the uphill challenge of heading to Beantown down 0-2 in the series.
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Last year’s team overcame an 0-3 deficit to take down the Bruins, but the circumstances may be even more challenging this time around. Instead of playing Game 3 at home like they did last year, they’ll have to invade a raucous TD Garden. And if that wasn’t difficult enough, they’ll have to beat the man in the crease that stoned them 52 times on Monday night.
Despite taking a 2-0 lead just 9:31 into game three on the strength of two James van Riemsdyk goals, the Flyers failed to put their foot on Boston’s throat and it cost them dearly. Bruins’ forwards Chris Kelly and Brad Marchand each found the back of the net within five minutes after the game’s second tally. The result was an even scoreboard and once again, goalie Tim Thomas became Boston’s biggest weapon.
After allowing two goals in the first 14 shots, Thomas regained his focus and played like a Vezina trophy finalist. He vanquished each deflection the Flyers tipped in his vicinity. He snatched seemingly every slap shot directed his way.
And when there was a side-to-side play in front of the net, he sprawled and found a way to prevent the Flyers from taking the lead. Regardless the situation, Thomas was everything Boston needed.
And everything the Flyers could have done without.
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen illustrated his frustration after the game.
“Every time [Thomas] makes save after save, it obviously gives [Boston] confidence that [they] can make a couple mistakes and he’s going to cover [them] up," he said. “We created so many chances today that I was hoping we could score but obviously we didn’t. But it’s not over. We’re going to get back and fight.”
Although Timonen’s confidence was echoed by his teammates, they may have bitten off too much to chew. Boston has last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals fresh in their minds, as well as the memory of erasing an 0-2 deficit in their first-round triumph over the Montreal Canadiens. Head coach Claude Julien made it clear that Boston wouldn’t look past the Flyers this time around.
"Teams that make it this far are teams that have a lot of character. We know they are not going to give up, and we know has what happened with this team.," he said. "[Philadelphia is] capable of bouncing back just as they did in the last round, so we have to be ready for them. We need to understand that the second half of tonight’s game was not good enough for this hockey club. We hold ourselves responsible for higher standards, and we are going to have to be better."
The second half of the game may not have been good enough for the Bruins’ lineup from top to bottom, but that’s when Thomas made his presence known. From the beginning of the third period until David Krejci’s game-winning OT goal, the Flint, Michigan native posted 32 saves. Although the Bruins were outshot by 20 in that span, he held them in the contest until Krejci slammed the door on the Flyers.
But head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t fazed by the team’s position in the series despite Thomas’ dominance. “We have to go to Boston and win one hockey game.” He explained. “We [came back] last series, we did it last year against Boston. When you lose your first two games in your home building, I would say that there is a real expectation for the Bruins to win the series now. So it relieves us of the pressure, I believe, a little bit to just go in and play a game in Boston. And while that relieves us of the pressure, it certainly mounts onto them to be successful now that they have a 2-0 lead. I really like our guys, I think that we’re going to go into Boston, we’re going to play a strong hockey game, we’re going to win a game. This team never quits and like I said we get to remove some of that pressure right now.”
For Philadelphia, there’s no denying that they have the ability to come back. The coach knows it. The players know it. Boston knows it.
Most troubling for the Flyers, Thomas knows it too.
“We do know from the way that we were able to come back last series . . . a 2-0 lead in a series doesn’t mean that the series is over,” the unflappable net minder said. “We still have a lot of work in front of us. As long as we take the same approach one game at a time, one period at a time, one shift at a time I think that’s the right approach. So that’s the way we will approach it going forward.”