The (Kinda Sorta) Unsung Heroes of Game 7

Shocked. Amazed. Joyfully numb. Speechless. That pretty much covers it. You know that feeling when the floor seems to have been yanked out from under your feet, when you’ve seemingly been compressed into nothing by two icy steel plates? There was that. It began as just a tingle when Boston scored five and a half minutes in. It spread all over when a second power play goal made it 2-0 only minutes later. Then it hit full force when Michael Leighton gave up what he might deem the worst goal of his career–a shot he had plenty of time to see off the stick of Milan Lucic all the way through his five hole on a two on one.

You know that feeling when the iciness starts to thaw? When your limbs tingle and ache excrutiatingly as the blood begins to flow again? There was that, too. It began with a simultaneously beautiful and fluky goal from James van Reimsdyk with three minutes left in the first. It continued as the Flyers suddenly found their legs, heads, and hearts at the end of the first period and through the end of the second. It echoed through the body in trembles that began when Danny Briere scored a huge goal for what seemed like the thousandth time of this postseason, and finally crescendoed into full-blown destiny when Simon Gagne–the guy who based on all modern medical rationale should not be able to walk, let alone skate right now–picked up a deflected Mike Richards pass in the slot, went backhand to forehand, and pumped a big “screw you, Boston” right into the top left corner of the net. Poetic justice: a comeback from a 3-0 series deficit; a comeback from a 3-0 deficit in game seven.

There. That’s my recap of all the obvious stuff: the goals scored and the raw emotional clout of last night’s game seven victory, for which the word “impossible” just doesn’t seem to do justice. Instead, I want to point out the little things–those moments that you surely saw, and might even have heard mentioned on postgame shows and in newspaper columns, but haven’t fully been given their moments of glory.

I’ll start with one of the more publicized stories. Scott Hartnell had the worst imaginable start to game seven. The guy has had a bad season. Let’s stop with the adjectives right there. Usually good for 25 to 30 goals, Hartnell managed just fourteen this season among two disgustingly long scoring droughts. Add to those woes his usual penchant for untimely minor penalties and a poor playoff performance that culminated in a third period benching in game three, and you have a year Hartnell would like to forget. Then, suddenly, Hartnell seemed to be on the brink of turning things around. He was hustling. He was creating opportunities. He was even scoring. And then the penalty that could have killed a season.

After the Flyers had dominated the first five minutes and twenty seconds of the game, Hartnell tried to bat a puck out of mid-air during a breakout. He missed the puck, but managed to hit a Bruin in the face. Two minutes. Boston would need only about fifteen seconds to score what in this series, up to that point, truly had been the all-important first goal. After seeming to finally turn things around, Hartnell was responsible for that nausea we were all suddenly feeling. He could have lay down and reverted back to the weak play that plagued him all season. He nearly did. A few minutes later, Hartnell committed a bad turnover in his own zone that almost gave Boston another goal, one that would have turned out to make the Flyers’ eventual comeback for nought. Eventually, though, Hartnell got his legs back. Not only did he score the team’s second goal on a dirty top shelf backhander, but he assisted on Briere’s tying goal and provided energy on a line that in turn energized the entire team. Don’t get too caught up in the goal; it was Hartnell’s aggression and meanstreak througout the comeback that made him a hero last night.

In a similar mold, fans will laud James van Reimsdyk for the goal that sparked the comeback. That spark was a three-headed monster: Peter Laviolette’s timeout (genius or a complete no-brainer, depending on how you look at it), Michael Leighton remembering suddenly how to stop a hockey puck, and JVR’s goal toward the end of the first period. The goal itself was both pretty and ugly–something not all that uncommon to big postseason goals. Mike Richards made a nice pass to the rookie at the bottom of the left circle. JVR deked, moved towards the net, and fired a low shot. A defenseman partially blocked the bid, slowing it to a crawl and changing its direction. The puck then scooted under Tuuka Rask’s pad, changing direction yet again, before seemingly indecisively making its way over the goal line.

It is impossible to overplay the importance of that goal, but JVR’s heroics are due only in small part to his first career postseason tally. Immediately following the goal, van Reimsdyk appeared to be a different person. He was skating in a higher gear than anyone else on the ice, and when he couldn’t beat a defender on speed alone, he did it with the strength that made everyone’s eyes go wide during that stretch early in the season where he averaged a point per game. One play epitomizes the rookie’s effort last night. With the score 3-3 in the second period and right after the end of a power play, JVR broke into the offensive zone with one denfenseman in front of him and two more on his tail. He dragged the puck back behind him, kept it away from the Bruin chasing him, went around the guy in front of him, who had gone down to disrupt the play, and flipped a shot high off Rask’s blocker. The subsequent scrum in front of the net resulted in the play which may or may not have been a goal. (Although no one really cares now, do they?) That one-on-three dominance is the highlight of the kind of performance that you hope will springboard the youngster to superstardom.

Finally, one play stands for the resilience the Flyers displayed in their comebacks, both in the series and in this game. If I said only “Giroux”, that would be enough. His puck protection in the final two minutes, though, deserves its own novel. It could be the greatest twenty-one seconds of individual effort in the history of any team sport. With 2:10 left on the clock, Claude Giroux picked up a loose puck behind Boston’s net. His goal at that point was simple: waste as much time as possible. Five seconds would have been successful. Ten seconds would have been outstanding. Instead, Giroux muscled his way past, through, and around three Bruins, managing to control the puck all the while. He pinned it against the boards with his stick. He kicked it with his skate. He fell down while moving to the corner, only to get up and protect the puck some more. He managed this for an unheard-of twenty-one seconds before, finally, exhausted, swinging the puck behind the net. Oh, and Giroux was a good four inches shorter and twenty pounds lighter than any of the three players against whom he battled. We’ll never know if Boston would have otherwise scored in those twenty seconds, but you could feel energy hemorhaging from the TD Bank Garden with each tick of the clock.

Here was a player coming off a stellar offensive series against the Devils, only to be slowed considerably in the conference semifinals. He is a player with all the offensive skill in the world, sealing up the most important game of his life not with skill, but with pure grit. It was reminiscent of Simon Gagne’s goal five minutes earlier. Gagne, a pure goal scorer who has made his career not by scoring goals but by doing all the little things, scored the game winner despite having no business even being on the ice. Giroux’s play served as a reminder of this entire team, who without their leading scorer, Jeff Carter, came back from the brink of all brinks on nothing but pure determination.

These are your unsung heroes of game seven. I ask you to be sure to sing their praise today. I ask you to sing their praise in the coming weeks, regardless of the outcome against Montreal. And far in the future when we look back on this, the comeback of all comebacks, I ask you still to sing their praise.


3 responses to “The (Kinda Sorta) Unsung Heroes of Game 7”

  1. clean skateboard wheels Avatar
    clean skateboard wheels

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  2. fanofphilly Avatar

    great post bro… love the way you put it… Quite amazing when you think what really happened. And like you said the pure IRONY of going down 3-0 in the series then winning 3 straight to eventually win that 4th game and winning the series really summed up the way the game was on Friday. Going down 0-3 in the 1st half of the first period then battling back and playing shut down hockey for the most part.
    And I could not of said it better then you did about Danny boy finally earning that paycheck. Gags came back at the PERFECT time, as did Leighty. If you told me that the DAY Leighty suits up Boosch would get injured and Leights would have to take over, in a way I would be shocked. Then again the way this season went who knows lol.
    Richards looks like the Richards that we all know, staying on the ice longer, taking and delivering the hits, moderating everyone on that ice, and the big one – CONNECTING on those passes finally!!!
    Pronger + Timonen = better then I ever thought. And Giroux….no need to say it twice, this guy is my new hero.

    Looking forward to tonight!

  3. Joesph Hodde Avatar

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