Flyers: The Playoff Run
In the first round, the Flyers faced off against the hated New Jersey Devils. They were the defending Stanley Cup Champions and had repeatedly been a thorn in the side of the Flyers. The Flyers never ever seemed to be able to break that neutral zone trap nor could they get through to Brodeur. It was like the Eagles constantly running into Dallas in the playoffs and constantly being beaten by your divisional rival. It sucked every single time.
Except in 2004! That year, the Flyers finally got over the hump. The Flyers won the first two games at home with scores of 3-2. Primeau had the game-winning goal in the first game while Recchi broke a 2-2 tie with a power play goal. After Jersey won game three, the Flyers would take the next two contests 3-0 and 3-1. Esche had a solid series and the Flyers advanced to the second round to play Toronto.
Ugh…the Maple Leafs. Again. These two teams were mirror images of each other. Big bruising teams that could also score. Toronto was the fourth seed and they would give everything they had to the Flyers. Philly won the first two contests 3-1 and 2-1, with Toronto winning their two home games 4-1 and 3-1.
In game five, Primeau had a hat trick sending the Flyers to a 7-2 victory. The Flyers ended the series with a 3-2 victory in overtime. Esche had to leave the game due to an injury, being replaced by Sean Burke. Roenick would be the hero as he scored a little over seven minutes into overtime. Now….onto Tampa!
Esche would get the starts in Tampa, but it was clear he was a little banged up. But hey, by the time you get to mid-late May, who isn’t? Also, the Toronto series was very physical, as it tended to be with players like Owen Nolan, Tie Domi, and Darcy Tucker. A lot of Flyers players were nursing injuries coming into that Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning
Tampa Bay was not Toronto. They were a young team based on skill, speed, and finesse and led by a new, hot-shot coach, John Tortorella. They had young studs like Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier. They also had former Flyer Ruslan Fedotenko and future Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk. This was a good team that was the top team in the East and just three points shy of winning the President’s Trophy.
Tampa was also well rested. They dispatched the New York Islanders in five games in the first round and then swept the Montreal Canadiens in the second round. Nikolai Khabibulin was a brick wall in the playoffs that season. Until facing the Flyers, he had four shutouts in nine games. Overall, he would sport a 1.71 GAA with a .933 save percentage. So with a rested, young team and a super-tough goalie, it would be hard for the Flyers to overcome.
The first game was just that. Tampa struck first just two minutes into the second period with a goal by Andreychuk. Handzus would tie it up just a few minutes later. However, Game One would go to the Lightning as Richards and Chris Dingman scored.
Game Two was all Flyers. Philly scored six goals with LeClair getting his first goal of the playoffs. Fedotenko would be the first Lightning player to score with St. Louis coming up after. However, with a 6-2 score, the game was safely in Philly’s hands as the series shifted back to the Delaware Valley.
Being in the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center did not help the Flyers in Game Three. Tampa scored twice to start the game before Primeau put the team on the board. The Lightning would add two more goals to win 4-1 and take a two-to-one lead.
In Game Four, the Lightning struck first with Frederik Modin scoring on a power play in the first period. The Flyers would rally with goals by LeClair and Recchi with Primeau adding one in the second. LeCavalier made things scary with a goal with 33 seconds left in the game. Still, Esche and the Flyers held on for a 3-2 lead.
As the series shifted back to Tampa for Game Five, the Flyers fell apart a little bit. The Lightning scored three power play goals to start the game; two of them by Richards. Handzus and Sharp would help to rally Philly, but Tim Taylor would score an empty netter to secure a 4-2 game and give Tampa a three-games-to-two lead.
With their backs to the wall, the Flyers had to win Game Six. LeCavalier scored his eighth goal of the playoffs at just 1:28 into the game. His goal ignited something in the Flyers. Gagne and Primeau would score in the first period to take the lead. LeCavalier tied the game 45 seconds into the second, but Kapanen would give the Flyers the lead again. Fedotenko, who must’ve been upset that the Flyers had traded him for draft picks two years earlier, scored two goals to give Tampa a lead.
Primeau, as he had often done, conjured up some playoff magic and tied the game with less than two minutes to go. And as the game went into overtime, Gagne was the one to become a hero a scored. The Flyers had tied the series up. Game Seven would be in Tampa.
But it was obvious that the Flyers were out of gas at this point. They had given everything they had. Fedotenko had scored his ninth playoff goal in the first period. About five minutes into the second, Modin struck again. Philly was down 2-0. Johnsson would score just a few minutes later to put the Flyers down by one goal. And as the third period wore on, the Flyers did everything they could to score. However, Khabibulin could not be beaten. Tampa won the game 2-1. The Flyers season was over.