Back when the playoffs were a foregone conclusion and the Philadelphia Flyers were winning division titles, they went toe-to-toe against the top-seed in the Eastern Conference in the Tampa Bay Lightning in a grueling 2004 Eastern Conference Finals showdown.
The Flyers ended the season sporting a 40-21-15-6 record, while the Lightning led the pack going 46-22-8-6. The Lightning also possessed the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy winner in Martin St. Louis, who paced the league with 56 assists and 94 points.
On this day 19 years ago, Simon Gagné scored one of the most iconic overtime game-winning goals in the postseason in franchise history – at least in the modern era.
Gagné was also the hero in their 2010 2nd round comeback against the Boston Bruins as they trailed the series 3-0. His return to the lineup not only netted him the game-winning goal in overtime, but he also scored a brace in Game 5 and the late winner in Game 7. He provided a lot of fireworks for the Flyers in the early 2000s before that, but maybe none bigger than his Game 6 heroics against the Lightning.
The 3rd-seeded Flyers faced off against their bitter rivals in New Jersey, defeating the Devils convincingly in 5 games in large part because of the makeshift “Blackhawk-Down” line with Alexei Zhamnov scoring 3 goals and 8 points and Jeremy Roenick scoring 2 goals and 7 points. Robert Esche was also spectacular, sporting a .942 SV% and only allowing 9 goals in 5 games as he had to stare down the legendary Martin Brodeur.
The Flyers then had to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in what was a battering ram of a series. This time around it was a different line that took over as Keith Primeau led the charge with 3 goals and 5 points, and his running-mate in Gagné had 2 goals and 5 points himself.
The Flyers won the first 2 games at home before the Maple Leafs tied the series heading into Game 5. The Flyers thrashed them 7-2 on home-ice before taking the series on the road with an iconic Roenick game-winner in overtime after Sami Kapanen was plastered along the boards by Darcy Tucker.
Roenick’s winner set the stage for an Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the John Tortorella-led Lightning, who defeated the New York Islanders in 5 games in the first round and then handily swept the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, Fredrik Modin, and Nikolai Khabibulin on one side. Jeremy Roenick, Keith Primeau, Mark Recchi, Alexei Zhamnov, and Robert Esche on the other.
It was another punishing series for the already-battered Flyers. The winners kept alternating one after the other and unfortunately for the Flyers, they lost the first game. Keith Primeau led the way once again with 4 goals and 8 points, Michal Handzus was behind him with 3 goals and 5 points, and then shockingly Sami Kapanen, Mattias Timander, and Vladimir Malakhov each with 4 points. Simon Gagné, John LeClair, Mark Recchi, and Jeremy Roenick each had 3 points and Alexei Zhamnov and Tony Amonte tallied 2 apiece. Even with their top guns not producing, they were one goal away from possibly making it to the Stanley Cup Final.
The 23-year-old Gagné wasn’t having himself the greatest postseason and was held without a goal through the first 5 games of the series. The stage was set for Game 6 at the then-First Union Center with the Flyers needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and Gagné came through in a big way.
Vincent Lecavalier scored the opening goal of the game before Gagné responded with his 4th of the playoffs and first of the series. Keith Primeau then gave the Flyers a late lead heading into the second period. Lecavalier tied things up only 45 seconds into the middle frame before a 3-goal onslaught in the final 7 minutes favoured Tampa Bay.
Sami Kapanen gave the Flyers a brief lead before Ruslan Fedotenko scored 2 goals in 2:18 to give the Lightning the lead heading into the third period.
Primeau then tied the game with only 99 seconds remaining in the third after kicking the puck from one side of the net to the other before finishing it off on a wrap-around attempt. The captain’s heroics set the scene for the game-winning goal to keep the series alive.
With a shade under 2 minutes remaining in the overtime session, Kim Johnsson flipped the puck past 2 defensemen as Jeremy Roenick went into the boards to retrieve it. Roenick and Pavel Kubina collided, but the former was able to keep the puck on his stick and feathered a pass to Gagné.
Gagné then dumped it right back behind the net – past Roenick – right to Primeau, who brought a defenseman over to him as he feathered a pass to Roenick who finally got back to his feet.
Roenick wrapped it around in front of the net on what looked like a shot attempt but it found Gagné’s stick perfectly as he was positioned all alone on the other side for the finish as the Flyers survived by the skin of their teeth and forced a Game 7.
Game 7 was a tighter affair that saw the Lightning defeat the Flyers by a score of 2-1. Fedotenko scored yet again – making that 3 straight Lightning goals – to open the game with his 9th of the playoffs and 6th of the series. Frederik Modin then doubled the lead 4:57 into the 2nd period beating an unsuspecting Robert Esche in front of the net with a quick deflection goal. Esche thought he had it along the post but the puck had squeaked out over the blue paint where Modin was able to deposit it into the empty cage.
Kim Johnsson then cut the deficit in half later in the period but that was all she wrote as the Lightning moved on to advance to the Final and ended up winning their first Cup in franchise history by defeating the Calgary Flames in 7 games.