Prior Game Fours: 2003 ECQF v. Toronto and Triple OT

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Continuing with PhillySportsNetworks blast from the past pieces where we take a look at past playoff performances, we take a look at the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup that pitted the Flyers against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

2002/03 Regular Season

The Flyers finished the 2002/03 season second in the then-Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference. They accumulated 107 points throughout the 82 game schedule, one point behind the Atlantic Division champion New Jersey Devils.

Toronto finished the season in the same position as the Flyers, just in the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference. With 98 points, they trailed the first-place Ottawa Senators by 15 points.

Philadelphia’s finish put them in the fourth seed in the playoffs, while Toronto’s finish put them in the fifth. It was a middle-of-the-conference showdown between the Maple Leafs of the great white north, and the bullies from Broad Street in the opening round of the playoffs.

The teams split the first two games at the Wachovia Center. For game three, the teams traveled north of the border, each looking to take a one game advantage into game four. After two overtime periods, the Maple Leafs took game three, and a one game lead into game four, looking to add another nail in the coffin before returning to Philadelphia for a game five.

1st Period

The Maple Leafs set the tone early. About :50 into the period, Darcy Tucker found Jeremy Roenick admiring a pass from behind his own net. A few seconds after the pass, Tucker leveled Roenick, slamming him into the boards and down to the ice in a heap. Roenick would get up, as the linesman escorted him to the bench, but not before Roenick got in Tucker’s face with some choice words. No penalties were assessed.

Less than :30 later, the Flyers would have an answer. Michael Handzus would push the puck along the near boards. As the puck was traveling towards Toronto’s zone and around defenseman Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi gathered it and pushed it forward. Down by the red line and to Ed Belfour’s left, Recchi would take a shot from a bad angle, and it would end up behind Belfour for the Flyers’ first goal of the night.

Toronto would answer about three minutes later. Toronto was on a powerplay rush up the ice with Paul Healey as the puck handler. He pushed it ahead to Bryan McCabe on the far boards. A streaking Travis Green took the backdoor past Eric Weinrich, who failed to pick up Green, and would beat Roman Cechmanek short-side to even things up at one.

2nd Period

The Flyers wasted little time once again getting things going in the second frame. Donald Brashear would dump the puck along the boards into the Toronto zone. Belfour would play the puck behind the net, unaware of Jeremy Roenick closing in. Roenick would pick the puck away from Belfour, skate across the red line, and wrist one off Belfour’s left leg and into the net. That goal would give the Flyers a 2-1 lead only :54 seconds into the second period.

While nobody notched a goal for the remainder of the period, play intensified. Darcy Tucker was once again at the center of the physicality, this time on the receiving end. While entering the Philadelphia zone, Tucker dropped a pass for Mats Sundin. After dropping the pass, he was met by Tony Amonte, who got tangled up with Tucker, resulting in Tucker falling to the ice. Tucker appeared out cold, but would come-to and no penalties would be called. In retrospect, Tucker at the very least deserved an Oscar nomination for that prolific flop and ensuing acting job.

3rd Period

While the Flyers carried a one goal lead into the final period of regulation, it wouldn’t last long. Glen Wesley would have the puck at the point and pass it along the near boards to Mats Sundin. Sundin would then find himself wide open, walking in on Cechmanek and wristing one past the Flyers netminder. Replay showed Toronto’s Gary Roberts falling to the ice, and subsequently taking down Flyers defenseman Eric Desjardins. Desjardins would then slide into Cechmanek before Sundin approached, appearing to inhibit his ability to defend the net. The goal was not reviewed, and the Leafs had evened the playing field at two.

Regulation time would end with both teams deadlocked at two goals apiece. For the second game in a row, these two teams would need overtime to decide a winner.

First Overtime

The only thing of note to come of the first overtime period was a Simon Gagne penalty for goaltender interference. The Flyer would kill off the penalty, and keep things tied as the 20 minutes expired, leading the Flyers and Leafs to their second consecutive double-overtime game.

Second Overtime

The second overtime ended much like the first, minus the penalties. A lot of back and forth, but no winner yet. The Leafs and Flyers were headed to their third overtime period of the night, looking to end things in quick fashion.

Third Overtime

The third overtime period would prove to be the deciding frame, as the Flyers would send one to the back of the net and even the series at two games apiece. Dmitry Yushkevic would find himself at his own blueline, passing the puck ahead to Michael Handzus. At center ice, Handzus would find Mark Recchi streaking up the far boards. Recchi would gather the puck after entering the zone, skate it to the left dot, and wrist one that would trickle through Belfour’s five-hole.

On the 75th Flyers shot of the game, nearly double Toronto’s total, the Flyers would even the series and send things back to Philadelphia for a game five with big implications.

What Happens Next?

The Flyers and Leafs would split the next two and head to a decisive game seven in Philadelphia. The Flyers would earn the win in convincing fashion, taking game seven by a score of 6-1.

Philadelphia would move on to the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the President’s Trophy winning Ottawa Senators. The series would go to six games, with Ottawa coming out on top and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. Philadelphia would be sent home to lick their wounds until the beginning of the 2003/04 season.