- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A few days ago, seeing 24-year-old right wing Joffrey Lupul again struggle, Philadelphia Flyers coach John Stevens pulled aside the 20-goal scorer.

Instead of criticizing Lupul, Stevens did the opposite.

“It was more a vote of confidence,” Stevens said. “I told him to get back to doing the little things he does well, getting involved physically, using his speed, shooting the puck. There’s a kid that really cares, and I wanted him to get focused.”

Lupul picked the perfect time to get involved offensively last night at Verizon Center, scoring the game-winner 6:06 into overtime, giving Philadelphia a 3-2 Game 7 victory over the Washington Capitals.

During a overtime power play, David Steckel blocked Danny Briere’s shot. Lupul’s first attempt missed the mark, but his back-hander beat Caps goalie Cristobal Huet for his only goal of the series.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Lupul said of his 10th playoff goal. “We were on the power play. The puck got to the net. I ended up banging it in. And then 20 guys are ramming me into the boards. I’m still catching my breath right now. I’m sure it will sink in the next couple hours.”

Despite not producing throughout the series, Lupul continued to get a regular shift on a line with Briere and Vaclav Prospal.

“[Stevens] showed confidence in me the whole series,” Lupul said. “I didn’t have a goal all series, and I missed several open nets, but he had me on the power play almost the whole time. He’s stuck with guys when they’re struggling, and that gives you confidence as a player.”

Lupul helped the Flyers avoid becoming the 21st team in NHL postseason history to blow a 3-1 series lead. They advance to play top-seeded Montreal.

“I really enjoyed the series,” Stevens said. “You love to see a group have some success and win a few games, but to win a series, it’s great to see the excitement with the players especially after last year.”

Stevens’ message to his team yesterday morning had everything to do with the moment.

“Basically the message was it doesn’t matter how we got to Game 7; it’s that we’re in Game 7,” he said. “That’s an exciting time for a player and a hockey team.”

Still, the nerves got to Stevens. He left the Flyers’ team hotel on Connecticut Avenue between L and M streets four hours before gametime, opting to walk to Verizon Center rather than wait for the team bus.

“Couldn’t sleep,” he said.

His Flyers team was anything but asleep throughout the deciding game. They withstood the Caps’ early push, and Scottie Upshall’s slap shot from the right circle beat Huet late in the first period. Philadelphia took its first lead on Sami Kapanen’s marker midway through the middle stanza.

While Lupul scored the series clincher, Briere finished with a series-best 10 points and Martin Biron made 39 saves last night, perhaps the Flyers’ most valuable player was defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who was charged with containing Alex Ovechkin. Although the Moscow Dynamo finished with four goals, Timonen held Ovechkin relatively in check.

“Kimmo was unbelievable,” Stevens said. “It looked like he could play all night out there. [The Flyers’ Derian Hatcher] said earlier in the year Ovechkin was the toughest player he’s ever played against, and that’s saying something considering how long Hatch has been in the league. Kimmo embraced that challenge and wanted it.”

Said Timonen: “It wasn’t easy. He’s the MVP in my mind and a great player and unbelievable scorer. It wasn’t just me. It was the other guys out there helping me.”

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