Overcoming odds nothing new for Flyers
PHILADELPHIA -- If ever there was a team comfortable dipping its toes into the playoff abyss, it's this Philadelphia Flyers team.
Give up the lead in the third period of a must-win game? No problem.
Have a possible goal disallowed in overtime? No problem.
Face the prospect of being down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup finals? No problem.
Danny Briere -- the man who started the play that led to Claude Giroux's overtime winner in Philly's 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 Wednesday night -- seemed genuinely surprised when asked if he had ever thought about the alternative, about losing, on this night.
"To be honest, I never thought about it. I never thought that we were losing that game," said Briere, who had another monster night for the Flyers. He scored the team's first goal on the power play and then in overtime found an open Matt Carle, who sent a sharp pass that Giroux deflected past Chicago netminder Antti Niemi 5:59 into overtime.
"When I came back after the third period, the way we had played in that third, it was like, 'OK, we're going to win it,'" Briere said. "It's a good thing I didn't even take the time to think about the alternative, but you have to think positive. We did that and we believe in our team."
This rocking, back-and-forth, emotional contest might have been the best game of this entire postseason. Maybe it felt that way because there was so much riding on the outcome, especially for the Flyers, who had dropped two one-goal games in Chicago to start the series.
As they did in Game 1, the Flyers opened the scoring with Briere's power-play goal, but Chicago tied it early in the second period.
Scott Hartnell, Briere's linemate, was an absolute beast in Game 3, controlling the puck, making plays, knocking Chicago's defense around and scoring midway through the second period, also on the power play. But Chicago defenseman Brent Sopel scored his first postseason goal since 2003 to tie it again late in the frame.
With one period to salvage their Stanley Cup dreams, the Flyers instead found themselves trailing 3-2 just 2:50 into the third when Patrick Kane took a lovely Jonathan Toews pass, skated in alone on Michael Leighton and snapped home a shot to give the Hawks the lead.
At that moment, you had to wonder if the stars were aligning perfectly for the Cup-starved Chicagoans. They have become masters of pulling games out of the fire this spring, masters of doing exactly what needs to be done to win the close games. They had done so in Chicago in Games 1 and 2, and now they appeared ready to do so again in Philadelphia and push the Flyers to the brink.
And yet, on the very next shift 20 seconds later, the Flyers caught a break as a Giroux pass deflected off Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson toward the net. Niemi kicked out the deflection, but Ville Leino pounced on the rebound to make it 3-3.
"It was huge to get it back. We needed a goal right there," said Leino, who was acquired from Detroit before the Olympics and was a frequent healthy scratch in the regular season and playoffs until injuries opened up a regular place in the lineup. "We'd been leading the games a lot of times and they'd been coming back and beating us. It was good to turn the other way today."
The happy Finn has enjoyed terrific chemistry playing with Briere and Hartnell, and the line has been the best unit on the ice thus far in the finals. Leino now has six goals and nine assists in the postseason.
"They were dominating at times. The puck is on their sticks. They're generating scoring chances," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "You know, when we popped any one of those guys down with Giroux and [Arron] Asham, which we did a couple of times, it produced a couple of goals for us. They seem to be really on their game right now. Offensively, they're getting a lot of looks, a lot of chances."
Although the Flyers had a number of good chances down the stretch and outshot the Blackhawks 15-4 in the third period for the second straight game, they found themselves in overtime and one shot away from being down 3-0 in the series. The Blackhawks pressed early. Then, at the 5:02 mark, a pass from Philly's Simon Gagne ricocheted off Chicago forward Dave Bolland and through Niemi. The horn sounded, but the reviews showed the puck had stayed out.
Giroux, the impressive youngster from Hearst, Ontario, admitted he and his usual linemates Daniel Carcillo and Asham didn't play well in Chicago, and they were determined to do better in Game 3. While Giroux was having his pregame nap, he said he received a text message from a friend.
"He doesn't usually text me a lot," Giroux explained. "He said, 'I have a feeling you're going to score the overtime winner tonight.' I texted back and said, 'You're crazy.' I'm going to call him now. It's obviously a big goal. It's probably my biggest goal in my career."
Every game in a series can take on a kaleidoscope effect. The differences seem startling from moment to moment.
Against Montreal in the Eastern Conference finals, the Flyers won the first two games at home and then looked slow and old in Game 3 before shutting down the Habs the rest of the way. By winning Game 3 of this series, the Flyers have merely set the stage for what could be an even finals heading back to Chicago for Game 5 on Sunday. All of what happened in Game 3 -- the overtime winner, the gutsy comeback after Kane's goal, the power-play goals -- adds up to just that, an opportunity.
"Once again, we showed a lot of character. We're not going to quit. We're still far away from our goal, but it's a step in the right direction," Briere said. "We've seen it throughout the playoffs; one good game doesn't mean it's going to happen the next one, you have to make it happen. When you get on such a high like we did winning in overtime tonight, it's going to be important that we refocus tomorrow and we get back to it and we forget about what happened tonight."
He's right. Despite being outplayed badly in the third period of Games 2 and 3, Chicago is one win away from putting a death grip on this series. The Hawks know all about decisiveness, too, and appeared not the least bit flustered at the dramatic outcome of Game 3.
"You can't forecast scores," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. "We have had a wild first game, a little bit lower-scoring last game. This game is on the line from start to finish, as all three games have been. But it's entertaining hockey, and the pace is all-out."
So, after the Flyers flirted with being blown out of this finals series, they stepped back and rewrote the script for at least a day. It's no surprise to defenseman Chris Pronger.
"We've had an awful lot of adversity this year. We have had to learn on the fly," he told reporters. "I don't think anybody has ever questioned [ourselves] in the locker room, anyway. I'm sure some of you clowns have, but we haven't questioned ourselves or questioned exactly what it is we're trying to do. We've struggled at times and been able to turn the corner and figure it out."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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