The horn blared, signaling a Flyers goal, but veteran ref Bill McCreary, stationed down low, emphatically indicated that was not the case, 9 minutes and 55 seconds into the second period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals last night, as the puck, fished away from the line by Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, went the other way.
The red goal light behind Antti Niemi wasn't on, then, briefly it was. The largest hockey crowd in Wachovia Center history, 20,297, started to celebrate, then settled down to an angry buzz as it became evident that a Flyers power play, set up by a slashing penalty on the Blackhawks' Dustin Byfuglien, was continuing.
Finally, with the scoreboard clock showing 8:23 left in the second, the penalty ostensibly killed by the Blackhawks, the Flyers iced the puck and McCreary went to the glass to confer with the replay room in Toronto.
McCreary, refereeing his 43rd Stanley Cup finals game, moving him past Bill Chadwick for first place all-time, took off his helmet and donned a headset.
Replays shown on the big scoreboard screens told the story, at least to the orange-clad crowd; one shot, in particular, you could see the puck sitting on end next to the post, tiny but indisputably white space peeking between the puck and the line, as Hjalmarsson reached, his blade behind the puck, with Niemi getting squashed under Danny Briere.
McCreary took off the headset, handed it back to off-ice official Augie Conte, and then asked public address announcer Lou Nolan not to say anything until McCreary made his signal. The ref quickly smoothed his dark brown hair, jammed on his helmet, and pointed to center ice.
Toronto had agreed with the crowd's view - the puck crossed the line, and the goal that gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead was allowed, meaning a minute and 42 seconds had to be replayed. Initially, Chris Pronger got credit for the score, but further replays showed Pronger's flick from just inside the blue line deflecting off Scott Hartnell, who had set up the initial goal of the game with a lovely, diving pass to Briere.
Obviously, other goals and overtime ensued, taking the onus off the replay for deciding the outcome. (Until, 5:02 into OT, it happened again, sort of. More on that later.) Interesting to ponder the reaction in Philadelphia if this had happened in the days before video review, and the goal had stayed off the board. Not the sort of highlight McCreary, a veteran of more than 1,600 NHL games, would want as part of his legacy.
"I think it was [Claude] Giroux who made a good play on the power play. He was faking it like he was coming to the middle, and popped the puck to Pronger. He has a pretty stellar shot. I was able to get a stick on it and just luckily, it crossed the line," Hartnell said.
"We just had to keep playing because they didn't blow the whistle . . . It was a little 'high and low' but they made the right call."
In overtime, a Simon Gagne shot fooled the guy controlling the horn, and the crowd, as Niemi sprawled atop the puck in his crease. Replays showed it hit the right post and danced along the line, never completely crossing it. No goal, and that was the review ruling - although Jeff Carter eventually chipped the puck away from Niemi and into the net, well after the whistle.
No matter, 57 seconds later, Giroux's acrobatic redirection settled the outcome, giving the Flyers their first Stanley Cup finals victory since May 28, 1987, when J.J. Daigneault won Game 6 vs. Edmonton.
"We were a little disappointed, but we stayed in there" when the OT chance was ruled no goal, Giroux said, though he agreed the puck obviously did not cross the line.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said the team communicates with its personnel in the press box, and has a pretty good idea what the reviews show before rulings are made.
"We've got a voice on the bench in the background, and he told us the first one he thought was in, the second one he didn't think was in, so we knew right away," Laviolette said. "It's always the interpretation of the league, but I haven't seen either one of them, to be honest with you."
The Wachovia Center was shocked and silent, the Flyers were dragging. Twice they'd taken leads in a must-win Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, twice Chicago had answered, and now, for the first time on Philadelphia ice, the Blackhawks led, 3-2, on a breakaway goal expertly wristed stickside by Patrick Kane, 2 minutes and 50 seconds into the third period.
Disaster loomed for the Flyers, down 2-0 in the series. Then a rebound ended up on Ville Leino's stick, lots of open net showing, and for the sixth time in the playoffs, Leino lit the lamp. His goal, 20 seconds after the Kane score, breathed life into the Flyers and their crowd.
"We've got momentum back now and we'll be ready come [Game 4] Friday night," Leino said after Claude Giroux gave the Flyers a 4-3 victory, 5:59 into overtime.
Leino said his view of his goal was that he passed to Giroux, whose attempted pass to Arron Asham at the far post broke down in front. "I don't know how it came back to me, whether it was the goalie or the d-man, but I got an empty net there," he said.
The puck seemed to deflect off the skate of Blackhawks defenseman Jordan Hendry, onto Leino's stick, Leino skating to the left of Niemi, who was out of the net, shaded toward the right side and Asham.
Leino tied the Flyers' rookie playoff goal-scoring record set by Mel Bridgman in 1976.
"Right now, he seems to have so much energy out there," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said of Leino, acquired in a February trade for the immortal Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. "You can double-shift him without taking him off the ice. He seems to have a lot of jam right now. I think what everybody is impressed with, and certainly we are as well, is his ability to hang on to that puck and make plays.