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Bob Ford: Flyers skated like their boots were on fire

The only thing about the Stanley Cup Finals that sounded good at the outset of Wednesday's game was Kate Smith.

The Flyers celebrate Claude Giroux's winning goal in overtime. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)
The Flyers celebrate Claude Giroux's winning goal in overtime. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)Read more

The only thing about the Stanley Cup Finals that sounded good at the outset of Wednesday's game was Kate Smith.

You have to give it to the old girl. She's been waiting through all these years for that next Cup celebration, and she still never bounces one off the pipes. Kate's just a grainy gal in a high-def world, but she still can get the stands revved up when the situation calls for it.

As for the rest of the prelude to Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks, nothing much else sounded good as the Flyers circled out from their dressing room. They were trailing the series, two games to none, having lost one high-octane game and one lowbrow game in Chicago to start the series.

If that seemed to leave them with few stylistic options, the Flyers shrugged and went for one that has worked in the past: Skate as if your boots are on fire.

Well, that strategy worked, although it took a tick less than 66 minutes of hockey, two goal reviews, and a lot of hard work before the Flyers won the game, 4-3, their first Stanley Cup Finals win since 1987.

It turned out that Game 3 was by far the best of the series, featuring a great back-and-forth tempo, a lot of hitting, some wonderful shots, and little of the sloppy play that bounced along the slushy swamp of the United Center.

The Blackhawks gave back as good as they got from the frenzied Flyers as the teams traded goals and Chicago came back twice from one-goal deficits before the Flyers opened the third period by doing the same.

Had either team gotten a two-goal lead, the game would not have been played as wildly, but this wasn't going to be that kind of night. As it was, every shot and every shift had to count. The Flyers, for all their energy, were not lucky with their shots. They hit the post a couple of times, missed a few rebound shots that were nearly the equivalent of open netters, and had to make up with hustle what they lacked in accuracy.

Still, through two periods, and late into the third, that was enough. The tension mounted, the contact increased, and the officials put their whistles away. This game, this pivotal game, was going to be decided by the players, and they knew it.

Earlier on, the game looked as if it might be decided by freeze frame when Scotty Hartnell's deflection of a Chris Pronger slapshot trickled through the pads of Chicago goalie Antti Niemi. The puck bounced off Niemi's right skate and trickled just millimeters over the goal line before being hooked out by a Chicago defender.

The horn blew, the red lights went on, and 20,297 fans were sure they saw the goal. Unfortunately, none of the four officials on the ice were that confident, and the Flyers' power play continued for 1 minute, 42 seconds before play finally came to a halt and the goal/no-goal was reviewed. The crowd did what it could to help the decision-making process, cheering each time the overhead replay was shown in excruciating slow-motion and each time there was clearly daylight between the puck and the goal line.

It turned out that 2-1 lead midway through the second period wouldn't be any safer than the 1-0 lead the Flyers held after the first period. And, just because every bad turn deserves another, the Flyers didn't let Chicago get comfortable with its 3-2 lead at the start of the third period.

The Blackhawks took their first lead of the night on a breakaway buried by by Patrick Kane, but the Flyers answered just 20 seconds later on a rebound shot by Ville Leino. After that, regulation time was skated away without barely a pause and without a penalty despite the increasingly physical play.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette went only with what he truly trusted in this spot, and that meant just three scoring lines and two defensive lines. By the time the game rumbled into an overtime period, defensemen Braydon Coburn, Pronger, Matt Carle, and Kimmo Timonen had played at least 25 minutes, paced by a leg-dragging 28:44 for Pronger. Only one Chicago player, defenseman Duncan Keith, played as many as 25 minutes, and the Flyers had to hope that fatigue didn't become a deciding factor before it was over.

It nearly was, of course, and happily for the home crowd when Danny Briere appeared to score five minutes into the overtime. The horn, the lights, the puck dancing along the goal line again, but this time the review went against the Flyers and play continued.

But not for long.

Less than two minutes later, Claude Giroux poked through a perfect pass from Carle on an odd-man rush, and this one didn't need to be reviewed.

Kate didn't need to come out and sing again, either, because this opera is a long way from over.