You do this long enough, you get to see a few things. Tonight will be the ninth time I have been in the arena when the Flyers played a Game 7.
Of the previous eight, the first and last were the most memorable, unforgettable bookends. The first was Game 7 of the 1987 Stanley Cup Final at Edmonton. I was the Eagles’ beat guy back then, but it was all hands on deck for that series and I was about the seventh guy on the coverage team. The Flyers lost in a really tight, nervous game and my only real memory is from the post-game, when the father of Flyers goalie Ron Hextall was being interviewed and kept referring to his son as Ronald.
The most recent Game 7 was last May in Boston. It was history piled on top of history. Down 3-0 in games, down 3-0 in Game 7, it was done. And then Peter Laviolette called that timeout and James Van Riemsdyk scored to make it 3-1 and everybody just kind of looked at each other and raised a quick eyebrow. The whole thing was impossible, and it happened. And while I’m a guy who really isn’t much for mementos, I’m pretty sure I shoved the credential from that game into my desk drawer after I got home.
In between, the memories come in flashes. In 1988, the Flyers lost a Game 7 at Washington, ending a series in which Hextall couldn’t stop a beach ball. It was Mike Keenan’s last game as coach. The next year, in Paul Holmgren’s first year as coach, Hextall was hurt and came up with this pre-game test for his knee: if he could across the street from the hotel and up the hill to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena and do it without any real pain, he would play. But he couldn’t make, leaving the start to his chain-smoking backup, Ken Wregget. Flyers 4, Penguins 1.
Then, 2000 against New Jersey. That Brian Boucher was the goaltender, then as now, is stunning. And that the enduring picture of the evening was Scott Stevens laying out Eric Lindros, is undeniable. But there was something else that night, the debut of the digital duet, with Lauren Hart joining the recording of Kate Smith for the rendition of God Bless America. They pulled it together at the last minute, and nobody knew it was coming, and when Hart got done with the first verse and gave way to Smith’s image on the video board, the roof of the place just about blew off. People who make fun of how the Flyers cling to their history, and to that song, certainly are entitled to their opinion. But they don’t tend to be the people in the arena when that rendition of the song is performed. It has never failed to get the place going.
Only one of the Game 7’s was relatively easy, a 6-1 win over Toronto in 2003. The next two were the exact opposite. With a terribly battered team, the Flyers took Tampa Bay to Game 7 in 2004 but lost -- and I’ll never forget watching one of the players, on the day before the game, trying and failing to button his dress shirt and needing help. Then, in 2008, it was tension upon tension when Game 7 against Washington went to overtime. Joffrey Lupul scored the series-winner for the Flyers, but I remember hating the experience because, given the logistics of the arena and the deadlines, we all had to watch the overtime on television in the press room. It was almost like you weren’t there.
Now, tonight’s the ninth. The only certainty is that I have no idea what memory is going to endure.