Phil Sheridan: Simon says: One big step for Flyers

Posted: May 08, 2010

There are guts and there are smarts. Simon Gagne showed both Friday night, and the Flyers now have sudden life in this playoff series against the Boston Bruins.

Make no mistake. The road back from 0-3 remains long and hazardous. The Flyers are still the longest of shots to get out of the hole they found themselves in. But it's just as true that, if they're going to defy the odds and steal the series, they needed a big moment to turn it all around.

Enter Gagne, right on cue.

The veteran was injured in the first round when a puck broke his toe. Gagne had surgery to repair the damage. Most of us would still be logging couch time. Players in other sports would have been watching from a luxury suite.

But Gagne decided to come back early. That showed the guts. When the game went into overtime, Gagne told the athletic trainer and coaches that he didn't think he could play. After a couple of weeks without skating, his legs were gone, and he was having cramps. That showed the smarts.

"When it was 4-3, I was praying that we were done," Gagne said. "Then I wouldn't have to answer this question. It was more about game shape than about the foot. You don't want to go out there and make a mistake."

So he sat and watched as the Flyers got chance after chance in overtime. He watched as the Bruins fired a few rockets at Brian Boucher. He watched as the Flyers killed a power play in the extra time. He watched, knowing the whole time that a Bruins goal would end the game, the series, and the Flyers' season.

Sudden death. And then, sudden life.

When the overtime hit the 10-minute mark, Gagne noticed something.

"I was getting a little bit better," he said. So he told coach Peter Laviolette that he could go in, if needed. By that point, Gagne was fresher than the guys taking short shifts with all that pressure on them. His fatigue led to him feeling pretty good.

Almost immediately, Gagne got a chance to write a terrific ending to the story. A puck slid across the slot in front of Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. Gagne zipped over and fired off a quick shot - the kind of out-of-nowhere one-timer that beat Boucher twice in Boston.

But Gagne, who was snakebit on such chances throughout the first round, saw his bad luck continue. Rask stuck his foot out, and kicked the puck harmlessly away.

"The puck was supposed to go to the [defenseman]," Gagne said. "For some reason, the puck didn't get through there. I was able to take it and spin around and put one right at the net. He made a great save. I thought that one was going to go in, but it didn't. Thank God I had another chance."

Just a few moments later, Mike Richards got the puck to Matt Carle, who fired it toward the net. Gagne was on the right side, all alone. He got his stick down and tipped the puck, and it fluttered into the goal.

Sudden life.

"You can't ask for anything better," Gagne said.

It is up to the Flyers now to make something of this gift. They lost the first three games of this series. They blew a 3-1 lead in Game 4, then allowed Mark Recchi to score a way-too-easy goal with 31.5 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.

"We just said to forget what just happened," Boucher said of the mood before the OT period.

They came out with no Gagne and with no Daniel Carcillo, who had injured his leg. They came out with no momentum, having turned that over to the Bruins like a sloppy pass in their own zone.

And then Gagne got his legs back, and the Flyers got a chance to play Game 5.

"The pressure's on them now," Boucher said, sounding a note of bravado. "They're going home, and we still have nothing to lose."

They still have the series to lose. So often, you see a team on the verge of being swept do what the Flyers did, what the Detroit Red Wings did a night earlier to San Jose. The sweep-averting Game 4 win is a lot more common than comeback from 0-3.

"This is just a first step," Gagne said. "Let's face it. This was a big goal, but it's one goal. We've got to keep going, and maybe I'll have a chance to score bigger goals. It's one step for us. We get to keep going."

That was the best they could hope to accomplish in Game 4, the chance to play one more time. The journey back from 0-3 begins with a single step. It's just rare that a guy with a broken foot makes that step possible.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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