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Flyers in 7th Heaven

The train ride out of Philadelphia on Monday night was quiet and solemn. No Flyer wanted to talk about the fact that they had blown a 3-1 series lead against Washington, and missed a chance to clinch at home in a Game 6 they had led early.

The train ride out of Philadelphia on Monday night was quiet and solemn.

No Flyer wanted to talk about the fact that they had blown a 3-1 series lead against Washington, and missed a chance to clinch at home in a Game 6 they had led early.

There was too much on the line, and well, this Flyers team was used to emotional, unexplainable swings; it's been the team's character all season.

"Everybody felt like we lost one there, that we should have won at home [Monday night], but we felt that if you look at our season, it's been all ups and downs," said defenseman Kimmo Timonen. "We've been missing guys and guys came in the lineup and did a great job.

"[Yesterday morning] we had a meeting and talked about that, that it won't be easy, either, but that is how the season has been going so we came to the rink and you could feel that everybody in the locker room was ready to go. "

The prediction in the meeting was correct. It was not going to be easy. But why should it have been?

It was Game 7 in a Stanley Cup first-round playoff between two young and hungry teams with different dynamics, but with a deepening desire not to be left out of the next round.

The teams traded goals and hits and shots and moments of stupidity followed by moments of heroics. And in the end, it came down to a game of next goal wins.

Overtime, Game 7.

That next goal was scored by Joffrey Lupul, who had gone scoreless through the entire series, but was in front of the net and Capitals goalie Cristobal Huet when Timonen fired a power-play shot from the point. Lupul was right there for the rebound, which he backhanded past Huet 6:06 into overtime for a 3-2 victory. It came with 9 seconds left in the power play.

It was the first time the Flyers ever won a Game 7 in overtime.

"Pucks haven't been bouncing my way and that one bounced right on my backhand and I just made a play from a tough angle and put it in," Lupul said.

Just put it in. What the goal amounted to was a ticket to Montreal, where the Canadiens wait to open the Eastern Conference semifinals tomorrow night.

"It feels good to get that one," Lupul said. "That's the type of goal you dream of when you grow up. "

And the type of game in which everyone wants to play.

Scottie Upshall and Sami Kapanen scored in regulation and Martin Biron made 39 saves to win his first-ever playoff round. It was the first time this season he won the second of back-to-back games.

"I guess he answered those questions about back-to-back - he was terrific," said coach John Stevens, who won his first series as an NHL coach and answered as many questions as Biron.

"We had a lot of faceoffs in our own end in the third and again in the first overtime, and [Biron] was terrific. That might be his best outing as a Flyer. "

Throughout the series, leads were blown by both sides, and the intensity grew by the minute. The series was arguably one of the most entertaining of the opening round, and yes, it was the best game that both goalies played.

The Montreal series will be a different matter altogether.

The Washington series was about a supertalented young Russian sniper and a high-flying team anchored by Huet, a castaway goalie from Montreal, of all places.

The Flyers' game plan was to stop Alex Ovechkin, a task that became increasingly difficult. He scored two in Game 6, tied the game last night and did nearly everything possible to win it.

Montreal, the top seed in the conference, is a much more talented team across the board, and one that also will have good goal-tending, from Carey Price.

The first period was a special-teams battle with each team getting several chances and a goal.

Washington scored first on a five-on-three. Sergei Fedorov took a shot that went off the backboards behind Biron and came out the other side to Nicklas Backstrom. The rookie jumped on the rebound and put the Capitals up.

The Flyers got the next power-play chance, and Upshall played on the point for the first time since the preseason. He took a shot from the blue line that carried enough force to squirt under Huet's pads on the ice.

The Flyers were then handed a huge opportunity when Fedorov high-sticked Upshall and cut his face, drawing a double minor.

Adding to the Washington problem was David Steckel being called for hooking 18 seconds later.

The Flyers had a five-on-three for a full 2 minutes. But they couldn't score despite at least eight solid chances to pull in front.

The Flyers grabbed the lead on a lucky break in the second period. Patrick Thoresen was driving to the net while the Caps' Shaone Morrisonn was playing the puck in front. Thoresen drove the Washington defender into Huet and the puck came out to Kapanen. With Huet down, it was an open-net goal, giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead 9:47 into the period.

The Flyers managed to kill a second Steve Downie minor late in the period, but right at the end defenseman Jason Smith stepped up to hit Brooks Laich and turned the puck over at the Flyers' blue line right in front of Ovechkin. The results were predictable. In alone, the sniper snapped it between Biron's feet from 41 feet, tying the game, 2-2, at 15:29.

The third period was as wild as any in the first six games. And the Flyers were lucky to get the overtime. Washington had 16 shots on net to the Flyers' five, and there were Philadelphia turnovers by the bucketful. Still, the game remained tied.

Until Lupul struck, taking advantage of a tripping penalty taken by Washington's Tom Poti.

"I'll deal with going to Montreal [today]," said forward Daniel Briere, who assisted on the game-winner. "Right now I'm too excited about what happened tonight. This was all about playing one game and laying it all on the line.

"This time of year, you're not going to change your system. It's all about thinking about playing one game and winning one game and it came to winning one period, it came down to scoring a goal.

"That's all it was for us. That's all we were telling ourselves."