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Billy Vargus on the Flyers' historic comeback against the Bruins

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V for Victory with Billy VargusBilly V

It’s been an amazing comeback on so many different levels. The 2009-2010 Philadelphia Flyers  have just become the first Philly team to ever come back from a three games to none deficit to win a seven game series. The numbers involved almost scream that it’s some kind of destiny. They fell behind in the series three games to none to the Boston Bruins, and after battling back to force a deciding Game Seven, found themselves trailing by that same margin (3-0).

Amazingly, they battled back again, winning the game 4-3, and the series 4-3. And the number of teams in major sports history to come back from such a steep deficit goes from 3 to 4. Only the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, the New York Islanders in ‘75 and Boston’s baseball counterpart, the Red Sox, had come back from 0-3 to win in 2004. 

As amazing as all this is, it’s even more surprising that it was this version of the Flyers who did it. It’s hard to believe this is the same season that started with the Flyers having high hopes after signing Ray Emery as their new goalie  and John Stevens the head coach. Then, the season started and the team would look great one night and disinterested the next.

Emery went out with a season-ending injury. Brian Boucher became the goalie, until he too got injured. Michael Leighton was brought in off the scrap heap after being cut by Carolina. Before the Flyers ran into their goaltending emergency, Leighton was thinking he’d probably have to go to Russia to play. Who would have imagined then that Leighton would end up being the goalie who carried the Flyers into the Eastern Conference Finals? 

When Leighton gave up three goals in the first period of Friday's game, it would’ve been easy for him and the rest of the Flyers to pack it in. “Being down that early took some of the wind out of our sail,” Leighton said after the game. “I went to the bench, and Lavvy said, ‘You just stop (the puck), we’re coming back.’”

Lavvy, of course, refers to coach Peter Laviolette, who called a timeout with his team trailing 3-0 in the first period, and successfully calmed down his players. Like his players, Laviolette has had to ride it out through a lot of ups and downs this season. When he took over for the fired John Stevens during the season, the team didn’t immediately turn around. They continued to have some really uninspired games. There was even an alleged dispute between Mike Richards  and Chris Pronger, and a split among the players, with the older guys supposedly backing Pronger and the younger ones supporting Richards.

That rumor is long forgotten now, although it may have been in the back of Laviolette’s mind after the Game Seven victory when he said, “There’s the right people in that locker room to come back from down 3-0.” Come back they did, and now all those problems during the season seem so long ago. And it’s hard to believe that it was only five weeks ago that the Flyers were facing the possibility of not even making the playoffs as they took on the New York Rangers in the final game of the season.

After winning that game, (on a shootout, no less) they went on to upset the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs, and now pulled off the unprecedented comeback against Boston. “This is the top of the bar right here,” Leighton said as the disappointed Boston fans filed out of the TD Bank Center in disbelief. “This is a great hockey team, a great bunch of guys. We love playing together and we showed a lot of character.”

michael leightonThis was his first time Leighton ever took the ice in an NHL playoff game. It was also his first action in eight weeks because of a high ankle sprain.

Then, in his first ever playoff start, Leighton won Game Six. He looked really calm and showed a tremendous economy of motion in making save after save, not rushing or falling for any fakes, knowing that his height (6’3”) and wingspan make it possible for him to get to most pucks if he just plays the angles right. Then came the deciding Game Seven in which he somehow found the ability to calm down again after the Bruins early onslaught.

No one could have known how well Leighton would play, and when that injury first occurred to Boucher in Game 5, it seemed to be a case of piling on by the hockey gods. The Flyers had already lost Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne  to injuries during the playoffs. However, Gagne miraculously came back from surgery on a broken toe just two weeks later, and in another amazing angle to the story, scored the winning goal in Game Seven. “It’s a game made for men. Our guys proved to be men,” Laviolette concluded.

Up next, the Montreal Canadiens, who have been even bigger upstarts than the Flyers in these playoff games. Since Montreal came into the postseason as the lowest seed, the Flyers will have home ice advantage. Montreal has already knocked off Washington, the team with the best record during the season, and Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Nobody expected them or the Flyers to go this far and there are undoubtedly more incredible surprises ahead.

Check out more of Billy V's articles on Philly2Philly.com right here!

Billy Vargus is an Emmy Award Winner for Best Sports Anchor for 2008 and 2009. (Mid-Atlantic region, covering all of Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.) Bill has been a TV sports anchor in the Philadelphia area for 18 years with the last 12 coming at Fox 29. He’s also had stops at Channel 10, Channel 12, plus at other television markets around the country.He has also served as the pre-game host for all Seventy-Sixers games in the past and also has acted in films, TV shows and commercials.

He can be contacted at billv@philly2philly.com