The applause grew louder and louder, until Roger Neilson had to stop thinking about hockey for a minute and notice the ovation was for him.
Philadelphia gave Neilson a rousing ovation to encourage him in his fight against bone marrow cancer, and his team rewarded him with one of its most impressive victories of the season.
John LeClair scored the tying goal and set up Mark Recchi for the winner 1 minute 43 seconds later as the Flyers defeated the Phoenix Coyotes, 5-3, last night in Philadelphia.
"That was probably the most exciting game of the year for everyone, and I know one team was really pumped at the end of the game," said Neilson, whose team won for the first time in three tries since he announced he has bone marrow cancer.
The Flyers, playing without injured captain Eric Lindros, extended the league's best current home winning streak to 10 games (9-0-1). They haven't lost at home since Oct. 26.
Philadelphia scored three times in the final 2:19, helping ease the memory of several third-period collapses earlier in the season. The comeback came on a night when fans and players on both teams showed Neilson they are with him in his fight.
At the first stoppage of play, Neilson was shown on the giant screen above the ice. The applause gradually built, and Neilson appeared not to notice at first.
But referees stopped play as players on both benches cracked their sticks on the boards--hockey language for applause.
"Knowing that all the people here are behind you and pulling for you is a great feeling," said Neilson, scheduled to begin chemotherapy Monday for multiple myeloma, a bone marrow disease similar to leukemia.
Although the Coyotes joined the cheers, they were in no mood for camaraderie at the end of the evening. Keith Tkachuk had his fourth two-goal game of the season, but Phoenix lost its season-high fourth straight.
Recchi had a goal and two assists, extending the league's longest current points streak to 11 games. He took over the NHL lead with 29 assists. Philadelphia outshot Phoenix 37-17, although Coyotes Coach Bob Francis disagreed.
"I think whoever was keeping track of that had a stuttering problem," Francis said. "Every time the puck touched [goalie Bob] Essensa, they gave them a shot."
* DEVILS 2, CANADIENS 1: In Montreal, Randy McKay scored on a deflection with 20.9 seconds remaining to lift New Jersey. McKay tipped Bobby Holik's shot past goalie Jose Theodore to help the Devils improve to 4-1 in their last five games. Montreal, missing eight regulars because of injuries, is 0-4-1 in its last five games at Molson Centre.
* SENATORS 2, CANUCKS 1: In Vancouver, Ottawa's Ron Tugnutt stopped 21 of 22 shots and maintained a shutout until the final minute, spoiling Mark Messier's return to the Canucks after missing 15 games because of a knee injury.