Flyers 5, Lightning 4
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.
Primeau scored the Flyers' second goal with 2:59 remaining in the first period. Lightning defenseman Darryl Sydor, deep in the Tampa end, attempted to backhand the puck out of the zone. But his feeble pass was picked off by Flyers' defenseman Vladimir Malakhov, who quickly zipped the puck to a lurking Primeau. He fired it into the net for a 2-1 lead.
It's too bad for the Flyers that Primeau can't stop shots, too. Esche had been one of the Flyers' best players all postseason. He wasn't Thursday.
Not a minute into the second period, Lecavalier, skating 4-on-4, scored his second goal of the game to tie it at 2, ripping a low wrist shot past Esche, who didn't see the shot until it was too late.
After physically dominating the visitors, as well as out-shooting them 11-6 in the first period, the Flyers didn't register their first shot of the second until 9:09 remained, with Tampa ahead 14 shots to 12.
The Flyers' third shot of the period, taken by Sami Kapanen, resulted in a goal that put them ahead 3-2. Another Lightning turnover put the puck on the stick of Alexei Zhamnov, who fed it to his cutting teammate. Kapanen slapped the puck from the top of the circle through Khabibulin's pads at 12:42.
That Flyers' lead didn't last either. Less than three minutes later, Tampa's Ruslan Fedotenko, in the slot, roofed a pass from Tampa Captain Dave Andreychuk past Esche to make the score 3-3 at 15-15.
Fedotenko scored on the power play less than two minutes later, going top shelf after getting a pass from Andreychuk, who was set up behind the goal. It gave the Lightning a 4-3 edge entering the third period.
"I think we were playing not to lose," Lightning Coach John Tortorella said. " We ended up on our heels. . . . We have to look at it as an opportunity. You don't get many chances to play a Game 7. We missed an opportunity tonight, but we are looking forward to Game 7."