CAN THE FLYERS really make this happen? Can they come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Bruins and win Game 7 in Boston? Perhaps they need to let history be their guide and reference May 23, 1982, when the 76ers won a remarkable Game 7 in the Garden. (OK, it's the TD Garden now, but that's the only thing that has changed.)
The Sixers went about the NBA Eastern Conference finals an almost equally agonizing way, building a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, then promptly losing Games 5 and 6.
"Everyone had written us off," recalled then-Sixers GM Pat Williams. "Nobody in America would have bet we would win Game 7, in Boston, in a rout."
But forward Steve Mix sliced through the tension of the day-before practice, ferreting through an equipment bag saying he was searching for Andrew Toney's jump shot. The second-year guard had been 1-for-11 in Game 6. And captain Julius Erving, on the bus ride from the hotel to the arena, was mentioning things to do in Los Angeles.
I was there. I saw some Boston fans wearing sheets walking through the stands, insisting they were "ghosts of Celtics past." But with 26 seconds remaining in what became a 120-106 Sixers victory, the crowd began to yell, "beat LA, beat LA." It was the birth of a special chant in Sixers lore. The same Sixers who had been up 3-1 on the Celtics in 1981 and lost Game 7 weren't about to let it happen again. Toney, the fabled "Boston Strangler," came back with 34 points. Celtics star Larry Bird went without a field goal in the fourth quarter.
The Sixers could not, however, take the challenge to the next step, losing the championship series to the Lakers in six games. They would have to wait until 1983 and the arrival of Moses Malone, sweeping the Lakers in four to win their second championship.
Now the Flyers have their shot at NHL history.
"The pressure has to be all on Boston," said Williams, now a senior VP with the Orlando Magic, the NBA's defending Eastern champions. "Philly had been written off. The expectations in Boston have to be enormous. For them to lose would be one of the great collapses in history." *
- Phil Jasner