- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — An orange-clad band was rocking to “I Will Survive” outside Wachovia Center before Game4 of the Eastern Conference finals. Survive is just what the host Philadelphia Flyers did, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 yesterday to even the best-of-7 series at 2-2.

The Flyers didn’t want to return to Tampa for Tuesday’s Game5 needing a victory to keep alive their hopes of capturing their first Stanley Cup since 1975. Instead, the top-seeded Lightning lost for the first time in six road games this postseason, falling two victories shy of the record set by the 1981 Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.

To improve to 7-1 at home, Philadelphia had to survive a harrowing middle of the first period. With Simon Gagne off for four minutes for high-sticking Cory Sarich and drawing blood, the Flyers fell behind 1-0 when Fredrik Modin deposited the rebound of Pavel Kubina’s shot from the left point into the net at 12:43.

With 26 seconds left in the second half of Gagne’s double-minor, goalie Robert Esche was whistled for slashing Dave Andreychuk. Making matters worse, captain Keith Primeau’s stick broke with the Flyers two men short.

“That was a dangerous moment,” Primeau said. “You lose the faceoff, your stick breaks, you’re already shorthanded and they’ve got so many guys who are capable of scoring.”

Philadelphia escaped further damage, so coach Ken Hitchcock was probably readying his “we’re only down a goal despite playing shorthanded for nearly six straight minutes” speech.

But after the teams returned to even strength, the Flyers’ Sami Kapanen carried the puck into the offensive zone. Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella couldn’t believe his players tried to poke-check the puck away from the diminutive Kapanen instead of hitting him.

When the puck finally came loose along the left boards, Primeau grabbed it, stickhandled into the center of the ice and dropped a pass for John LeClair, who rifled a shot through traffic and past Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to make it 1-1 at 16:55.

“I cut into the middle and I heard Johnny hollering from the bench … he’s the right guy to give it to in the slot because I knew he was going to bury it,” Primeau said.

And the Flyers kept coming. Mattias Timander’s long shot caromed off Modin’s skate to Mark Recchi, who tipped it into the net at 18:20 as the crowd erupted.

“I’m not surprised by the way we come back,” Hitchcock said. “This is a special group. Whether we’re good enough to win [the Cup] or not, who knows, but they know how to dig deep. They’ve done it all year.”

In contrast, Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said, “we fell asleep for about five minutes” and Modin said Tampa Bay “got a little sloppy and they took advantage of it.”

Then instead of Tampa Bay taking advantage of Vladimir Malakhov’s penalty for cross-checking Modin at 11:17 of the second period, Andreychuk stumbled and lost the puck in the offensive zone to Primeau, who raced in with Simon Gagne — and only Boyle back — and ripped a shorthanded shot between Khabibulin and the right post for a 3-1 margin at 11:50.

When the teams headed to the dressing rooms with the same score, the series was fit to be tied. Philadelphia is 8-0 leading after two periods in the playoffs while Tampa Bay is 0-3 trailing at the same juncture.

The Flyers couldn’t convert a 40-second, two-man advantage at 11:32 and the third period was the Lightning’s best, but to no end. MVP favorite Martin St. Louis shot wide on a breakaway with 6:06 remaining, so when Vincent Lecavalier slapped a power play shot by Esche with 32.9 seconds left, it merely made the final score look closer. Esche made 28 saves and played better than he had in allowing two bad goals in Thursday’s 4-1 loss.

“Robert was really into it today,” Hitchcock said. “He was really excited by the opportunity to redeem himself.”

Which was also true of the rest of the guys in orange and black.

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