Almost exactly 10 years ago, before the Flyers set out on their magical run to the Stanley Cup Final, they had to get to the playoffs first.
And that was nothing short of a miracle. It was the best game I ever saw and I ended up watching the most exciting part on a television screen not much bigger than a tablet in a musty hallway surrounded by people in suits.
Let's backtrack to set the scene. The Flyers had to win their final game of the 2009-10 season to get into the playoffs. They had floundered a bit down the stretch and that enabled the Rangers to make up 10 points in the final three weeks of the season. And to top it off, the Flyers were hosting those rival Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center in that last game on April 11, 2010.
As many of you know, the offices of NBC Sports Philadelphia, then Comcast SportsNet, are inside the Wells Fargo Center. It's access that grants us the ability to go out and watch games, go between our offices and the press areas and be able to return to work within minutes of a game ending.
On this evening, I was anchoring our nightly show so I watched the first period from my desk. The Rangers finished the opening period with a 1-0 lead. So let's have a change of scenery. I went up to the press box for the second period and for the start of the third. The Flyers had yet to score at that point so I went back to my desk. I wasn't getting a good feeling and thought it was going to be a tough postgame interview. Our producer and assistant news director decided that win or lose, I would go down to the dressing room and help get the story. But I wasn't alone. We had several reporters who would be there because this was too big for just one piece. I mean, there was so much riding on the outcome of this one game. Rangers win, they are in. Flyers win, they are in. It was the ultimate winner-take-all battle for the postseason and it was happening between two heated rivals.
Finally the Flyers lit the lamp with just under seven minutes left in the third to tie the game. But then, a stalemate. So with about two minutes remaining in regulation, I made my way downstairs to wait and watch in the hallway outside of the dressing room. Here we are: me, about a dozen other reporters and several members of building staff, all congregating in this small area. To picture it, it's a cement-wall hallway, with double doors on one side leading to the dressing room and the other side leads to where the Flyers come on and off the ice.
Time is winding down and it looks like the game will go to overtime.
An already high-tension situation ratcheted up another notch. I look over to my left and who's standing there but Mr. Ed Snider. He's joined to the small mass of reporters and staff to wait and watch.
This was it. We were all watching not from a luxury box, or the press box, or even in front of a large flat screen television. No, we were all huddled around a monitor that was about 15 inches across.
Overtime. Waiting. Watching. Who would win? Who would go home?
Sure enough, the drama was still building. Overtime ended with the score still knotted at one goal each. Shootout. It was almost unbelievable. This was a win-or-go-home game and not three periods of regulation nor overtime could decide it. Of course it had to go to a shootout. You may recall that it was backup goaltender Brian Boucher in net for this entire game and he truly stood on his head. The Rangers had been on fire and he stopped nearly everything that came his way the entire game and extra period. Now, he had to last through a shootout.
We are all crunched in together watching on the tiny monitor as each skater went their turn. But one of the hallway party had left us. Snider had walked back up to his seat earlier. I can only guess he figured, win or lose, he was watching that in person. I can't say I blame him. So it was Danny Briere up first: goal! The crowd went nuts and you could feel the stands shake around us. The Rangers' Eric Christensen skates in on Boucher: save! More cheering and shaking.
Next for the Flyers: the captain, Mike Richards. Henrik Lundqvist makes the save. The disappointed sighs of the crowd echoed down our little hallway.
Now here comes P.A. Parenteau: goal. The groans grow louder of the Flyers faithful.
Each team has a shootout goal. It seemed like it was slipping away. But all was not lost. Enter Claude Giroux to the ice. He makes one of his signature shootout moves: goal, right between Lundqvist's legs! Euphoria doesn't fully express the crowd's response; I'd say pandemonium was more like it.
But as loud as the cheers were after Giroux's goal, the boos were louder when Olli Jokinen came into view. This was it. He comes in, tries to go five-hole on Boucher but not on this night, not on this goalie and not against this team. Boucher stops the shot easily and the building's roof seemed like it was coming off.
Back in our little hallway, I've honestly never seen anything like it. You've probably heard the expression no cheering in the press box.
Well, that didn't really apply here. It was one of the greatest moments in Flyers history to win a game like that, one that the team had to win. And everyone was clapping and smiling and laughing. We all knew we watched something amazing and downright magical. It was one of the best games I've ever seen, even if I watched it on a tiny TV screen in a smelly hallway — or maybe because of that.
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