Two years ago, the Philadelphia Flyers made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals on the strength of comebacks that catapulted them to improbable victories. Their never-say-die attitude was infectious and helped them overachieve to the brink of nearly winning the franchise's first championship since 1975.
This weekend, Philadelphia faced two top Eastern Conference challengers, and promptly fell behind in each by a similar 2-0 score.
After forcing an overtime before eventually falling in the shootout Saturday against the Boston Bruins and scoring two third period goals yesterday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and winning in the last second of overtime, the fact that Philly came away with three of a possible four points speaks volumes about the club's resiliency.
They had come back from three-goal deficits on three separate occasions previously this year -- against the New York Islanders, Anaheim Ducks, and Calgary Flames -- but Peter Laviolette was impressed with his team's ability to come back against a couple of elite-caliber opponents over the weekend.
"The weekend we played the Bruins -- the Stanley Cup champs -- and they had an attitude yesterday because they lost a few games, and our guys battled back hard," the head coach said. "Penguins are on a hard roll here and everyone is talking about their team, so they come in here and I can't say enough about our guys and the effort that they finished with. And they didn't cave. That is a great sign from our team when they don't cave. And that has happened a lot this year."
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who yesterday kept his team in the game with a spectacular showing -- holding a potent Pittsburgh offense to just two goals while being outshot by a 27-10 margin -- long enough for his teammates to finally mount an attack of their own says their persistence paid off.
"Never give up, you know?" said the netminder. "In the third period we started possessing more pucks and controlling the game because we had the puck, basically."
Bryzgalov, who has struggled for the most part in shootouts all season, didn't want the game to go to the skills competition again after dropping Saturday's extra point to the Bruins. That's why Hartnell's heroics late in the overtime period was so important.
"Nobody wants to go into a shootout," he said, speaking for his teammates. "The goal was good for the guys. They got some points in the standings and when you score in a shootout it doesn't count. In a shootout you never know, you can't predict right now. Nobody has a crystal ball to talk about what's going to happen and if it is going to be a shootout. I am happy for the guys to score the goal with one second left in OT. It's great."
Laviolette said there were other big contributions to the cause, but it was Bryzgalov's play while the team was widely outplayed by the Penguins that kept his team within striking distance and made the comeback possible.
"Coots (Sean Couturier) did this, and Kimmo jumps in with that, and we were down 2-0 in the game, but there were countless big saves after that to keep it from going to 3-0 or 3-1," he said. "Again, everyone showed resiliency, especially Bryz. You need to get that from your goalie. He gave us a lot of big saves we needed him to make to give us the opportunity to get back in the third."
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen celebrated his 37th birthday yesterday with a power play goal to get the comeback started just 31 seconds into the third period against the Penguins.
"We’ve played really good hockey for the last couple of weeks and it starts with Ilya Bryzgalov, how he’s been playing," he said. "It’s a good win. We went down Boston 2-0, got a point, lost in the shootout, 2-0 here against a really good team and got a win."
Winger Jaromir Jagr said the comebacks were important for his team, especially with their higher aspirations for the last 10 games of the regular season, and where they would like to be seeded when all is said and done come April 7.
"We knew that they (Pittsburgh) were the hottest team in the NHL, and we knew if we would lose this game it would be pretty tough to come back and finish first in the division or in the conference," Jagr said. "It was like Game 7 for us. We have to win that game, no matter what, if we want a chance to still finish first. It gave us a chance to still finish first."
Heading into the weekend, both of Philly's opponents had been almost impenetrable when leading heading into the third period. Boston had been 26-0-0 in games when they led after two periods -- and the Flyers put a blemish on that perfect mark by getting into extra time -- and Pittsburgh had been 25-0-2. So it was no odinary feat to mount two classic, playoff-atmosphere comebacks against upper echelon clubs.
The best way for Philadelphia to play is with the lead, just like it is in a perfect world for every other team in the NHL. But it's good to know that if they do fall behind, the 'Comeback Kids' are never really out of it.