THE PUCK traveled no more than 10 feet combined on Wayne Simmonds’ three goals.
Fourteen garbage bags later, filled with 639 hats and one pair of sneakers celebrating Simmonds’ first career playoff hat trick, the team which has always believed once again captured the imagination of this playoff-starved city.
There was no need to cancel the Flyers’ pending Amtrak reservation at 30th Street Station last night.
On the back of the Wayne Train, the Flyers staved off elimination and improbably got back to level ground in their best-of-seven Metropolitan Division semifinal with a 5-2 thrashing of the Rangers in Game 6.
There will be three Game 7s in the NHL on Wednesday night. The Flyers’ death struggle with the Rangers is at 7 o’clock at Madison Square Garden. The Flyers are 9-6 all-time in Game 7s; they are 3-3 in franchise history in Game 7s played on the road.
New York has now lost an NHL record 12 consecutive games when holding a lead in a playoff series. After the blowout in which Cam Talbot relieved Henrik Lundqvist to start the third period, the pressure would appear to be squarely on the Rangers’ shoulders - where they were just 20-17-4 at home during this regular season.
The Flyers, of course, have completed the comeback from trailing 3-2 twice in their last four playoff years.
If Simmonds was the Flyers’ locomotive last night, Steve Mason was the Business Class cab. He was all business. With their season in the balance, Mason strung together arguably his best game since joining the Flyers last April, stopping 34 of 36 shots he faced. He now has two wins in three games this series - and there was never even really many close calls against the Rangers last night.
Suddenly, a bland and boring divisional series with little intrigue has been flipped on its head. Aside from the absence of overtime, Game 6 was just about everything the first five games of this series was not - gritty, fast-paced and filled with scoring chances.
Adam Hall’s third period fight with Brian Boyle and the ensuing scrums in the final minutes were just icing on an entertaining night.
Game 6 was played in a much more wide-open style - from the very drop of the puck - and it was all to the Flyers’ benefit. The Rangers enjoyed a shooting gallery on Mason early, but then the Flyers were able to introduce their aggressive, net-centered offense for really the first time.
Consider: the Flyers did not have a single shot off a rebound in all of Game 5 on Sunday in New York.
Simmonds scored his first goal of the night on the power play by swatting in his own rebound, with his skates nearly on Lundqvist’s blue paint. His second came after Brayden Schenn flubbed a shot to his stick and the hair-raising hat trick goal was a tip-in from just outside the crease.
Sandwiched in between was Erik Gustafsson’s breakaway strike out of the box, providing a karmic answer to a phantom high-sticking call.
The Flyers have now netted a hat trick in four of their last five playoff series against New York: Tim Kerr (1986), John LeClair (1995), Eric Lindros (1997) and Simmonds. Before Tuesday, Simmonds had never even netted two goals in one playoff game.
Strangely, Kerr was the last Flyer to score a playoff hat trick in the first two periods. The last time that happened was April 19, 1989 against Pittsburgh - one of the three series in which the Flyers have completed a comeback from a 3-2 series deficit.