The Seventh Day of Claudemas: Seven Memorable Game 7s

Here we are in December with little to do in this tough lockout time. What’s a blog to do? Well, it looks like a 12 Days of Christmas-themed series of posts is the way to go. But, we realize that all of you hockey fans aren’t into Christmas, so we’ve named it after the man nicknamed Orange Jesus and called it Claudemas.

On the seventh day of Claudemas, Flyers Faithful gave to me… seven memorable Game 7s in Flyers history.

7. Sabres, 2011

In the first round of the 2010-11 playoffs, the Flyers faced the Buffalo Sabres in their first playoff series since losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals the year before. This series was full of goaltending issues (the infamous “goaltending carousel” of Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton for the Flyers and Ryan Miller being Ryan Miller), drama (Patrick Kaleta vs. Danny Briere), and an awesome Easter Sunday OT win for the Flyers in Game 6 that forced a Game 7 back on home ice.

After winning that game in such a strong fashion, the Flyers were fired up. Philly was in control from the outset, rolling to a 16-2 advantage in shots and a 1-0 lead after one and held a 4-0 lead going into the third period, chasing Ryan “Mass Murder” Miller from net and going on to win the game 5-2, sending them to the semifinals against Boston.

6. Oilers, 1987

If Game 7 victories can produce some of the highest highs in franchise playoff lore, Game 7 losses can produce some of the lowest lows.

One exception to the rule was May 31, 1987, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Flyers and Oilers at Northlands Coliseum. The final analysis: Edmonton won, 3-1, and claimed its third Cup in the last four seasons, but the underlying theme was that of a noble loser. Philadelphia certainly laid its claim.

Without their leading scorer for the entire seven-game set in Tim Kerr, and facing multiple other health issues, plus the overwhelming talent of a healthy Oilers club, the underdog Flyers fought back from series deficits of 0-2 and 3-1 to force a deciding game and throw a scare into their rivals, who needed to play their best possible game in order to not fall flat on their faces in front of the entire hockey world.

Rookie goaltender Ron Hextall was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, capping his stellar series with 40 saves in a losing effort, the players on this team have found a special place in the hearts of fans 25 years later, and this series is still talked about as one of the best Cup Finals in NHL history.

5. Capitals, 2008

After the worst season in franchise history, the 2007-08 Flyers were attempting to make the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and the Washington Capitals were the only team standing in their way.

The Caps took the first game of the quarterfinals, but the Flyers posted three straight wins (including a double-overtime victory in Game 4) and were poised to eliminate Washington in Game 5. Unfortunately, Game 5 didn’t go as planned; not only did the Flyers lose the game, but they also lost Mike Knuble for the series.

Washington’s Game 6 come-from-behind win forced a Game 7, and Marty Biron helped to force an overtime after not allowing the Capitals to score in the third period and break a 2-2 tie. A little over six minutes into the fourth period, Joffrey Lupul tipped a Kimmo Timonen rebound past Cristobal Huet, and the Flyers went crazy (The Caps went home, but not before the fans thought it was a good idea to throw a bottle at Jeff Carter during a post-game interview).

The Flyers went on to beat Montreal in the semifinals and faced Pittsburgh in the conference finals, though that series didn’t end on the high note that the Caps’ series did – the Flyers were eliminated after a 6-0 loss in Game 6.

4. Lightning, 2004

Game 7 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay is, unfortunately, memorable for being a heartbreaking end to an incredible series after such a dramatic turnaround in Game 6. After dismissing the Devils in five games and the Maple Leafs in six, the Flyers moved on to face the number one seed in the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had only lost a single playoff game through the first two rounds.

The Lightning took Game 1 as the teams traded wins all the way to Game 7, including one of the more memorable playoffs games in Flyers history in Game 6. The Flyers entered that game down 3-2 in the series, and Ruslan Fedotenko haunted his former—and now current—team in Game 6, scoring both the tying and go-ahead goal in the second period.

With 1:49 remaining in the third period, Keith Primeau scored one of the most iconic goals in Flyer history when he posed statue-like with his stick raised like a torch, lighting the way to Flyer victory. As the first overtime neared completion, Primeau picked up one of the assists on Simon Gagne’s game-winning goal.

With spirits high after such a big win, the Flyers entered Game 7 confidently. Fedotenko continued his destruction of the Flyers, scoring the first goal of the game. Fredrik Modin made it 2-0 in the second period, but Kim Johnsson answered halfway through the stanza. Unfortunately, the Flyers weren’t able to muster another comeback as they lost Game 7 and a chance to compete for the Cup.

And so ended the great run of one of the best Flyer teams in recent memory, and one of the most dominant playoffs by then-captain Primeau. To make matters worse, Flyers fans had to stew on the tough loss throughout all of 2004-05 during the lockout that cost the league an entire season.

3. Devils, 2000

This game was one of the most devastating in Flyers history: The snapshots are few but in painfully sharp focus. Eric Lindros, crumpled on the ice in the first period from a Scott Stevens blow to the head. Patrik Elias quick to a loose puck shoveling it past Boucher as time wound down in regulation. The Flyers finishing up an epic collapse at home, losing a series that they once led 3-1, and the Devils’ second triumph over their division rivals in the semifinal round in six years.

If there is any one game that traumatized a generation of Flyers fans, it’s this one. Game 7 started with the Lindros injury and seemed to last forever after that. There have been fewer moments in team history when Flyers fans have felt more helpless or more hopeless than when seeing their leader motionless on the ice.

2. Capitals, 1988

This was one of the most important games in Washington Capitals history, and one that established Dale Hunter’s reputation as a player who could turn the tide for an entire franchise. It’s so important in Caps history that it’s the only game from before the 90s on their greatest games DVD collection.

Hunter scored twice, including the winning goal on a breakaway at the 5:57 mark of overtime to propel the Caps to the next round of the playoffs and finish a 3-1 series comeback against the Flyers. Brought to the nation’s capital to inject life into a successful team which had no clue how to hack it in the postseason, the score wiped out the bad taste of the Caps’ blown 3-1 series lead the year before, won by the Islanders in the Easter Epic.

It’s bad enough to have a series ended against you by a game winning goal in overtime, let alone when it’s from a much-hated pest like Hunter — who had been a thorn in Philadelphia’s side ever since he first faced them in the playoffs with the Quebec Nordiques in 1981.

1. Boston, 2010

Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals two years back was a game that was never expected to happen, one that will live in everlasting fame for Flyers fans, in absolute infamy by Bruins fans, and is a subject of fascination by hockey historians.

Going into Game 4, the Flyers were down 3-0 in the series to the Boston Bruins. One more loss, and their shot at winning the Stanley Cup was gone. Mostly everyone had written the Flyers off by that point. The Bruins were expected to win and move on to the Conference Finals, while the Flyers would be cleaning out their lockers the next day. History was not on their side, as only two previous NHL teams –the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1975 Islanders — had ever erased such a deficit.

Well, things don’t always happen the way they’re expected to, and not only did the Flyers come back in Game 4 to win in overtime (thank you, Simon!), but they went on to win both Games 5 and 6, forcing a matchup that would decide the playoff fate of both teams and the psychological baggage of the loser.

The Flyers were scored on quickly, and towards the end of the first period, they were already down 3-0, in familiar territory. But the most famous timeout in Flyers history was taken then, in which coach Peter Laviolette told the team, “One goal is all we need to turn it around,” and the Flyers heeded the call, with James van Riemsdyk scoring that ever-important marker with less than three minutes left in the period.

Scott Hartnell and Briere scored two unanswered goals in the second period, and it was Simon Gagne’s powerplay goal in the third that gave the team the lead — one they never gave up until the clock wound down and they had done the impossible.

As we all know, the Flyers went on to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost in six games, but their journey to the finals was simply unbelievable. They became the fourth team in history to come back from a 3-game deficit to win a series, and reminded Flyers fans why they can never, ever give up on their team.

*Flyers fans, if you need a good ugly cry, check out Broad Street Hockey’s video capsule of this series.