That the Flyers went into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final trying to make history pretty much goes without saying. But there is history and there is history.
And there is this: no team in the annals of North American professional sports -- no team, not one, not ever -- has won a playoff series after losing the first three games, won another playoff series after losing the first two games, and ended up winning the championship in the end.
That is what the Flyers were trying to do.
They dig holes in series. They dig holes in games. They lost the first two games of the Final to the Chicago Blackhawks and they trailed by 3-2 in the third period of Game 3. Down, down, it hasn’t seemed to matter. Truth be told, the Flyers dig and dig and kind of seem to like it underground. While the rest of us wait and watch and look for signs that the canary’s breath is labored, they just keep digging out.
When Ville Leino scored the tying goal in the third period, you thought the roof was going to blow off of the Wachovia Center. As a tense and taut 3-3 game wound down, through the rest of regulation and then into overtime, you wondered if it really might be happening again.
Then, it did:
The Flyers’ Claude Giroux redirected a pass from teammate Matt Carle and scored at 5:59 of overtime and, well, we suddenly have a series after all. With their 4-3 victory, the Flyers now trail the Blackhawks by two games to one in the series.
It keeps happening. The story of the Flyers’ never-say-diedness is so corny that it is becoming embarrassing to type the sentence. But it just keeps happening.
The Flyers got the game’s first goal, from Danny Briere -- who was the recipient of a behind-the-back, diving, falling down pass from Scott Hartnell. The Blackhawks tied it early in the second period on a shot by defenseman Duncan Keith that deflected off of the stick of Flyers forward Jeff Carter.
The Flyers took the 2-1 lead later in the second period on a shot deflected by Hartnell that just barely sneaked over the goal line. The initial call on the ice was no goal, but after a review -- and the viewing of one particular replay that showed just a sliver of white ice between the goal line and the puck -- the goal was counted.
About 8 minutes later, though, the Blackhawks tied it again on a long shot through traffic by Blackhawks defenseman Brent Sopel. Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton barely reacted as it flew by on his stick side. And then, at 2:50 of the third period, Chicago’s Patrick Kane got behind the Flyers’ defense and scored on a breakaway. The Blackhawks had their first lead of the game and the Flyers were staring again at the precipice of 0-3 in a playoff series.
Then Leino, so good with the puck, so patient, was the recipient of a fortunate bounce off of a Chicago defenseman’s skate -- and he didn’t miss. His goal tied the score at 3-3 and then the tense, long ending played out.
The Flyers had the best of the chances in the third period, but Chicago goaltender Antti Niemi -- as he had in the first two games -- played very well as the heat and the tension grew. The Flyers outshot the Blackhawks by 15-4 in the third period, and by 31-25 over the first three periods.
But shots don’t win Stanley Cup games, not by themselves.
At 5:02 of overtime came the close call. Simon Gagne took a shot from the circle to Niemi’s right, and the puck hit the left post and then slithered slowly along the red goal line. It was tight, but referee Bill McCreary correctly ruled that it was no goal, and his ruling was upheld by another video review.
Which meant that everyone had to wait a few more minutes, for Giroux, for another step back out of another hole.