It lacked the sheer drama of the Philadelphia Flyers' shootout victory to secure a playoff berth in Game 82 in 2010, but the emotion was the same Saturday, when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored into an empty Pittsburgh Penguins net to cap a 3-1 victory and send the boys in orange to an improbable berth in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Flyers' win eliminated the Boston Bruins, who were crushed at home by the Ottawa Senators 6-1 earlier Saturday afternoon and then had to wait for the outcome of the Flyers' game to see if their playoff dreams might live at least a day longer.
No doubt, some Boston fans will be angered that the Penguins didn’t dress stars Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby. Those absences contributed to a skeleton lineup already missing regulars Evgeni Malkin, Olli Maatta and starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, out with injury.
Still, things started well for the Bruins and their fans, who needed the Flyers to record fewer than two points in their final two games in order to sneak in as the second wild card. Pittsburgh scored first on a Nick Bonino goal just past the midpoint of the first period. But the Penguins - and as it turned out, the Bruins - were rocked by the departure of starting goalie Matt Murray, who has been sensational in relief of the injured Fleury, late in the first period, when he was injured in a collision with Brayden Schenn.
Backup Jeff Zatkoff was beaten on the first shot he faced, a pretty redirect by Wayne Simmonds, and the Flyers added the winner on another Simmonds goal late in the second period.
The Penguins generated little after the first period and collected just nine shots in the last two periods.
The Philadelphia Flyers earned their spot in the postseason with a solid run down the stretch. Len Redkoles/Getty Images
Even so, credit the Flyers for rising to the occasion Saturday in their second-to-last game in front of a sea of ultimately delirious, orange-clad Flyer fans. In recent days, the Flyers looked like they were out of gas, as they went winless in three straight and had to score late against the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday to save what turned out to be an all-important loser’s point.
The Flyers were expected to be rebuilding this season under rookie head coach Dave Hakstol, and GM Ron Hextall managed to unload unfavorable contracts belonging to Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn during the season. But in spite of making no significant moves at the trade deadline, the team continued to play well behind Simmonds, goalie Steve Mason (who got the win Saturday) and top rookie candidate Shayne Gostisbehere. The team ran up a 10-2-2 record in late March and early April before a three-game winless streak last week threatened to end playoff hopes.