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On This Day in History: Mike Richards Leads Flyers into Stanley Cup Final

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After completing their improbable comeback against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Philadelphia Flyers walked into the Eastern Conference Finals with home-ice advantage as the #7 seed because the 8th-seeded Montréal Canadiens conducted a Cinderella run of their own after they dispatched the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Flyers reached the final four for the second time in three seasons but this time around they were poised to clinch a berth for the Stanley Cup Final. For a club that had reached the Final six times in a span of 14 years, they had only won their respective conference once between 1988-89 and 2006-07 – when they ultimately got swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1997.

As for Montréal, they pulled off an improbable series victory over the number one seed in Washington, taking them down in the first round in seven games. They were backed by the offensive burst from Mike Cammalleri who scored 5 goals and 10 points but wouldn’t have come close to victory had it not been for Jaroslav Halák who went 4-2-0 in 6 games with a .939 SV%.

Then they took down the third seed in Pittsburgh in seven games, once again backed by Brian Gionta‘s 8 points, Cammalleri’s 7 goals and 8 points, and Halák’s .927 SV%. With their backs against the walls and facing elimination heading into Game 6, the Canadiens pulled off back to back victories to continue their torrid run.

As both teams set the stage for a surprising Conference Finals affair, the high-flying Flyers laid down the hammer in the first two games that were both played at the Wachovia Center. In Game 1, the Flyers opened the scoring early in the first courtesy of Braydon Coburn before scoring 3 goals in quick succession in the second period to jump ahead 4-0. Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux then scored within 73 seconds midway through the third to complete the 6-0 drubbing. Halák was pulled after allowing 4 goals on 14 shots, while Michael Leighton made 28 saves for the shutout.

Game 2 was more of the same as Daniel Brière opened the scoring early in the first period on the power play. Simon Gagné then added a power play tally in the 2nd period, before Ville Leino iced the game midway through the third for another shutout victory. Halák allowed 3 goals on 23 shots, while Leighton made 30 saves.

Game 3 went all Montréal’s way as they jumped ahead to a 4-0 lead after 2 goals in the first period followed by a goal apiece in the second and third period. Gagné broke the shutout with his 7th goal of the postseason before Marc-André Bergeron scored an empty netter to give the “Habs” a 5-1 victory and brought life back into the series. Halák made 25 saves while Leighton allowed 5 goals on 38 shots.

Leighton and the Flyers bounced back in a big way in Game 4 with another shutout victory – their third in the series. Giroux opened the scoring early in the second period before Leino doubled the lead heading into the third period. There were tense moments but Giroux iced the game with an empty netter, his second of the night, and his 8th of the playoffs. Leighton only had to make 17 stops, while Halák did all he could but took the hard-luck loss after allowing 2 goals on 24 shots.

Giroux’s 2-goal game pushed the Flyers one win away from taking the Prince of Wales Trophy and fighting for a chance to break their long-standing Stanley Cup drought.

Gionta put the Canadiens ahead just 59 seconds into Game 5 and then jumped on a power play with the chance of staking a 2-goal lead just 4 minutes into the game.

Captain Mike Richards was not having any of that as he sparked the Flyers to not only tie the game but pushed them over the edge with “The Shift”, the famous sequence that erupted the stands in Wachovia Center.

Richards first jarred the puck loose at the blue-line after laying out Bergeron and jump started a 3-on-2 rush where Halák robbed Coburn’s opportunity. As the Canadiens tried to get their own odd-man rush going the other way, Coburn got back in quick order and laid out a flying bodycheck against Bergeron as they entered the offensive zone.

Richards, Matt Carle, and Glen Metropolit were jostling for position and control of the puck before Carle tied up Metropolit’s stick, which allowed Giroux to pick up the loose puck. He sent an aerial clearance down the ice for Richards who made a bee-line towards the middle of the ice. Roman Hamrlík was trying to get back and Halák was coming out of the net to get to the puck first, but the puck suddenly slowed up and all three players collided before Richards got up to his feet and deposited the puck into the empty-net to tie the game.

Arron Asham and Jeff Carter scored in the second period to give the Flyers a 3-1 lead going into the third. Scott Gomez made things interesting as he cut the deficit in half with 6:53 to play but Carter would add his second goal of the night into an empty net to seal the victory, the series win, and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Unfortunately, that’s where the run ended for Philadelphia as they were taken down by Chicago in 6 games. The Blackhawks wound up winning the first two games on home ice before the Flyers returned the favour. In Game 5, it was a see-saw affair that went Chicago’s way before Patrick Kane scored the overtime winner in Game 6 – leading the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

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