Earlier today, Rev really summed up the visceral experience a game 7 in the NHL playoffs can be for fans, and I'm assuming most of you have spent the day like me—feeling like you're going to be shot out of a cannon later. A few of us are getting ready to head down to the Wells Fargo Center and assume our seats in its uppermost reaches, god willing to see a Flyers victory. I don't even want to think about the possibility of walking that concourse after an elimination. It's gotta be a Flyers win.
It's amazing how an entire season can come down to one night. All the hours we spent watching regular season hockey, analyzing it, sometimes arguing about it, and trying to determine how each outcome impacts the ultimate aspiration—winning a Stanley Cup.
Now that the Flyers will either advance or be eliminated on the outcome of one game, it almost makes the regular season feel like a just a really long preseason. Seedings haven't mattered. Home ice hasn't mattered—yet. But that regular season was far from meaningless. It was a training ground for this series, tonight's game, and hopefully the series ahead in the playoffs.
We knew goalies would likely be an issue heading into the season, and also the postseason. The Flyers were ultimately unable to answer their goaltending question over a preseason schedule, 82 regular season games, and six playoff contests so far. The wear on the turnstile at the end of the bench is a lot more than even most pessimists would have predicted.
But based on what we've seen in all those minutes of hockey, I think most of us believe Brian Boucher will play well enough to get them a win tonight. Overall this season, he has earned that. Boosh has a lot riding on this game too, from his future playing career to his overall hockey legacy. Win, and keep winning, and he could cement the city's fond remembrance of #33. Lose, and he'll probably still be appreciated and liked for his earnest efforts, but nothing approximating what a few series wins or (obviously) a Stanley Cup win would bring.
Boosh gets the start in net in a game 7 that will either breathe life back into championship hopes or crash the ship against the rocks. This one game really holds that much in the balance. His season-long tandem partner, Sergei Bobrovsky, is back on the bench. Michael Leighton, who drew a very surprising game 6 start (at least to me), isn't even the third goalie tonight after his poor performance on Sunday. That honor goes to Johan Backlund. What a weird, weird season and series for Flyers goaltending. And that's saying something.
And yet, here they are. Some miscues by the goalies have put a few obstacles in their paths, but it could be a lot worse. The same is true of several other NHL teams with great goalies, like Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks.
In the visitors' locker room, the Sabres are saying they're not worried about playing in Philadelphia. But are they worried about playing down a few regulars? Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly, and Patrick Kaleta have all been ruled out for the game. Jeff Carter is still out for the Flyers, and who knows how many minutes they'll get out of Chris Pronger.
Meanwhile, Derek Roy will suit up for the Sabres for the first time since December. And Ryan Miller? He's still in net. The last thing the Flyers can afford to do is even think for a moment that the Sabres are remotely shorthanded tonight. They just have to keep playing the same at even strength as they have for the first six games, get a good night out of Boucher, and for the love of good get a goal or two on the power play.
They really have played well throughout this series. Both teams have. It's been a great six games despite the attention on the Flyers' crease and some weak goals by all three of their netminders. But if the Flyers can't pull out a win on home ice tonight, the season ends, and it will do so embarrassingly. They've looked good under pressure so far, dating back to last postseason and including their comeback win in game 6, and there's really no reason they shouldn't advance tonight.
Now it's time to hit up the parking lots in South Philly and go absolutely crazy once we're inside. There's still time to squeeze the home ice advantage out of this series.