The hockey gods have been drinking lately. How else do you explain the way this spring had gone?
Last night in Boston, it very nearly reached a point where the Montreal Canadiens didn't even need to dress in order to register a victory in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The dream opponent for Montreal in the upcoming Eastern Conference final would certainly have been long-time archrival Boston, a team the Canadiens owned over the regular season - five wins and one loss - and a team that had recently lost its most dependable goal scorer, Marco Strum (knee), its best playmaking defenceman, Dennis Seidenberg (wrist) and slick forward David Krejci (wrist).
Far better the Bruins than the Philadelphia Flyers - a team that stormed back in this best-of-seven series from down three games to accomplish something managed only twice before in the NHL (by the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders).
It seemed a given the Flyers would win even before the puck was dropped and long before the final 4-3 result stood on the TD Garden scoreboard.
Boston, after all, had been booed off their own ice last time they played here. The Flyers were brimming with so much confidence they believed they might finally - after centuries of searching - have found a solid goaltender in Michael Leighton, the team's fifth netminder of this season alone.
So how do we explain Boston racing to a 3-0 lead before the first period was even through?
It seemed Montreal's worn lamp was still producing genies. That Boston was the preferred opponent to meet in the Eastern Conference finals was a given. Against the Flyers, the Canadiens had split the regular season 2-2. But the Flyers are also quick, as the Habs are, and far more importantly, are far more physical in their play than either the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins, who had already astonishingly fallen to the eighth-seed Canadiens.
The Flyers had their own injuries (Jeff Carter) and their own spring baggage, barely making the playoffs thanks to a shootout victory over the New York Rangers on the season's final weekend, and then having slipped to being down 3-0 to the Bruins before beginning their impressive comeback.
Down 3-0 in games, though, why not go down 3-0 in Game 7 just to give it a little symmetry?
Boston lucked into a power play early in the first period, when Scott Hartnell went off for high-sticking and, eight seconds later, Michael Ryder scored on a quick wrist shot from front. Little more than two minutes later, Boston got another power play when usually complacent Daniel Brière got called for high-sticking and Milan Lucic scored on a play that looked as if he were ploughing a drive as much as driving to the net.
On Ryder's goal, Boston winger Mark Recchi had to do a double-take to make sure he had actually seen a puck in the other team's net; Lucic seemed just as surprised by his own goal.
That is an indication of how bleak scoring had become for these Bruins.
Lucic then scored on a long wrist shot from the right wing before either the hockey gods sobered up or else the Flyers smartened up. Either choice will be marked as correct.
The Flyers scored their first late in the opening period, when young James van Riemsdyk took a shot that went off a Boston player and trickled past the pad of goaltender Tuukka Rask.
The Flyers brought it to 3-2 early in the second period, when Hartnell picked up a rebound and flicked a backhand shot high over Rask, who up until then had been loudly praised by the partisan crowd every time he touched the puck.
The 17,565 went silent when Brière scored on a strange semi-wraparound bank shot that looked more like lob ball than hockey, a goal being awarded after review.
On the winning goal, Philadelphia had the extraordinary good fortune of receiving a power play courtesy of yet one more of those too-many-men-on-the-ice calls that have plagued this year's playoffs. Simon Gagné scored when left alone in front of Rask.
What began as a seven-game series came down to a single period in the seventh game - a window so small that former Flyers coach Bob McCammon once said such games were like "a trip to Atlantic City - you're either lucky or you're not."
Flyers got lucky.
Bruins were not.
Canadiens got unlucky - having now to face a far more formidable opponent, a team where the team captain was saying: "We haven't done anything yet."
If there is one consolation for the Montreal Canadiens, however, it is that so far this season all four Game 7s have been won by the visiting team.
If this coming one goes seven, Montreal will be the visitor.Report Typo/Error