PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Mike Richards said the heck with superstition and had his hands all over the conference championship trophy.
Some teams refuse to as much as touch one until they have a firm grip on the Stanley Cup.
Not these Flyers.
“It took a lot to get here. It’s not the trophy we want, but we haven’t done anything conventional all year especially in the playoffs,” a laughing Richards said. “So we’ll go against the grain one more time.
The Philadelphia Flyers have rekindled some of their old “Broad Street Bullies” championship days and are back in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 13 years.
Richards had a highlight-reel goal early, Arron Asham and Jeff Carter scored 84 seconds apart in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals and the Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 on Monday night.
“I don’t want to say destiny or anything, but we have a great team,” Richards said.
The Flyers, who needed a shootout win in the last game of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot, will play the Western Conference champion Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 on Saturday.
The Flyers have not won the Stanley Cup since consecutive titles in 1974 and 1975.
“This is one of the most, maybe the most exciting season ever since the first Stanley Cup,” team chairman and founder Ed Snider said. “What these guys have done, what they’ve been through, I mean it’s incredible.”
Michael Leighton allowed a goal 59 seconds into the game, then shut down the Canadiens, who showed a resilient comeback spirit in the first two rounds.
The Flyers took a 3-1 lead into the third period, leaving the final 20 minutes as one raucous coronation party. Nearly 20,000 giddy fans dressed in pumpkin-orange giveaway T-shirts chanted “Let’s Go Flyers!” but couldn’t exhale until the end.
“I was counting down the clock the last 2 minutes, I couldn’t wait for it to wind down,” Leighton said. “Last couple of minutes we did a great job.”
Once Carter scored an empty-netter in the final seconds, the crowd exploded in a championship frenzy.
The finals seem a fitting result for a Flyers organization that still has some “Broad Street Bullies” in their bloodlines.
Forget dropping the gloves: This year’s Flyers have shown an awesome ability to fight back on guts alone. Down 3-0 in the conference semifinals vs. Boston and trailing 3-0 in Game 7, the Flyers rallied to win in one of the sport’s all-time great comebacks.
“We kept going and didn’t quit. Down 0-3 we didn’t quit all year that has been our motto. It feels good especially for the fans,” Richards said. “It’s been great so far. It’s been great along the way. The journey hasn’t ended. Hopefully we have a Cinderella story in the end, but we need to prepare for Chicago.”
Carter, Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere all pushed through potential series-ending injuries to return earlier than expected and deliver a shot at the Stanley Cup to Philadelphia.
“It’s a great feeling. We got a great team here, a great bunch of guys I’m proud of every one of them,” Leighton said. “I said right from the beginning of the year, we just got to get in the playoffs and anything can happen. That’s a tough team over there and we just played great.”
For all the knocks Philly takes as a title-starved sports town, all four major pro teams have made the championship round of their sport in the last 10 years. The Phillies in 2008 have won Philadelphia’s only championship since 1983.
Richards, their gritty gold medal-winning captain, scored a goal that will surely be shown over and over during the finals.
Playing short-handed and just trying to clear the puck from along the boards, Claude Giroux fired the puck about 175 feet down the ice and that sent Richards scrambling.
Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak inexplicably skated toward the top of the circles to try and stop the puck. Richards dived head first and slid perfectly between Halak and Canadiens defenseman Roman Hamrlik. The puck squirted away from the crashing Canadiens, Richards sprang up from his belly and tapped it into an empty net to make it 1-1.
Asham and Carter built the lead from there and gave Leighton all the room he needed.
Asham scored from close range 3:07 into the second and Carter, who made a quick return after breaking his right foot last month, quickly made it 3-1. Richards fed Carter a nice pass, and he fired on one-knee to stun Halak.
The Flyers’ run to the Cup finals has been solidified on second-period scoring. The Flyers outscored the opposition 26-7 in the middle period this postseason.
Down 3-1 in the series and 3-1 in the third, Montreal kept playing for one more comeback.
The Canadiens got in as the eighth seed and then knocked off Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington after falling behind 3-1 in the series. Montreal trailed Pittsburgh 3-2 before advancing past the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round.
“Later in the summer you might look back and say, ‘Hey we did all right,’ but right now it’s a tough pill to swallow,” Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill said.
Scott Gomez scored 6:53 into the third to give Montreal a sliver of hope. Not this time. Not against these Flyers.
“It was just one of those series. No one is going to run out of gas,” Gomez said. “You’re playing for the ultimate prize. You get to the ultimate prize, you’re going. You never use that as an excuse. The Flyers played a great series. They got us.”
Leighton stopped 25 shots, and the goalie who wasn’t even on the active roster at the start of the playoffs, was in the center of a celebration once the final horn sounded.
The Flyers played the requisite “Rocky” clips and fans erupted when Lauren Hart, the daughter of longtime former Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart, sang “God Bless America,” alternating lyrics with Kate Smith, who was on a video image. Smith’s rendition of the song has been a rallying anthem for the Flyers since the mid 1970s.
NOTES: The Flyers are in their eighth Stanley Cup final. They have lost five straight series since winning consecutive titles in 1974 and 1975.