Flyers' Phenomenal Finish
Primeau Ties Game Late in 3rd, Gagne Wins It in Overtime to Force Game 7: Flyers 5, Lightning 4
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2004; Page D01
PHILADELPHIA, May 20 -- Simon Gagne was simply doing what the Philadelphia Flyers forwards do best as he muscled toward the net, then made something out of nothing.
Gagne put an emphatic end to a game that very much resembled this back-and-forth Eastern Conference Finals, firing a wrist shot through Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin with 1 minute 42 seconds remaining in overtime to lift the Flyers to a 5-4 victory before a sold-out crowd of 19,910 at Wachovia Center in a game that crackled with intensity from the opening faceoff.
Game 7 is Saturday night in Tampa.
"This team has a special quality, it won't quit," said Flyers Coach Ken Hitchcock. "You're going to have to stick a lot bigger stake in us. . . . With about six minutes [left in overtime] I was thinking it would have been an absolute shame to lose this game. Our players gave it their all."
Saturday night's winner will host Western Conference champion Calgary on Tuesday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
"The puck came across the crease," said Gagne, who had two goals. "I was thinking Khabibulin was looking more for [teammate Jeremy Roenick] to shoot, but it came on my stick and shot it as hard as I can. We put everything in it. We had no choice but to win tonight."
Gagne's goal, assisted by Roenick and Primeau, was only slightly more dramatic than Keith Primeau's score, which forced the extra session.
Trailing 4-3 with 1:49 remaining in regulation, Primeau extended the Flyers' season with his second goal of the game in his trademark fashion. Much the way Gagne did on the game-winner, the hulking center crashed the net. Khabibulin stopped Mattias Timander's initial shot, but Primeau was there to knock it in and tie the score at 4, forcing the first overtime of the series.
"It's not just me, it's everyone around me," Primeau said. "I think our team showed a lot of courage the way we battled back."
Khabibulin made 38 saves; Philadelphia goalie Robert Esche made 25.
The Lightning faced an extremely hostile crowd Thursday, dominated by burnt orange.
"This is a wonderful time of year to play in this building," Primeau said. "I feed off their energy."
But it didn't take long for the Lightning to crush the fans' buzz. Flashy Tampa forward Vincent Lecavalier burst into the Philadelphia zone, faked defenseman Kim Johnsson to one knee, looked up as if to pass, then unleashed a wicked wrist shot that beat Esche low and inside the far post to put the Lightning ahead 1-0 at 1:28 of the first period.
Gagne evened the score 1-1 about six minutes later on a goal that required more hand-eye coordination than your average shot. The puck refused to settle for Gagne, and it eventually bounced up about knee high as he neared the crease. But no matter, he simply swatted it out of midair and underneath the cross bar, beating Khabibulin, who threw up his arms in disbelief.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company