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Philadelphia Flyers Shoot For Rare NHL Victory

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Philadelphia Flyers Shoot For Rare NHL Victory

Sports

Philadelphia Flyers Shoot For Rare NHL Victory

Philadelphia Flyers Shoot For Rare NHL Victory

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Three up, three down. That's been the story of the NHL series between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins won the first three games, then the Flyers came back to win three in a row themselves. Forcing a Game 7 when down 3-0 is exceedingly rare in professional sports. Winning a series down 3-0 is even rarer still. Three teams have ever done it, 276 teams have failed.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In Boston tonight, game seven between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The winner moves on in the National Hockey League playoffs. Game seven is a best-of-seven series, and it's always decisive and almost always dramatic, no matter the sport. But this one is even more intense, and here's why.

This is the rare occasion when a team - in this case, the Bruins - had a three-games-to-none lead and then lost three in a row.

NPR's Mike Pesca reports.

(Soundbite of arena)

Mr. JOHNNY RICCIO(ph): Anybody selling tickets? Selling?

MIKE PESCA: At the beginning of the week in Boston, Bruins backer Johnny Riccio was dispensing high fives outside the arena. His fellow fans were pleased with their team and eager to approach the affable Johnny, who exhibits enthusiasm and bon ami.

Also, he attends games in a bear suit.

Mr. RICCIO: I don't know what else to say. I had a bear suit.

PESCA: Johnny in the bear suit probably wouldn't admit this, but he was happy to see his team come back home to win the series. Bruins fans thought their team would be a cinch to clinch in Boston.

(Soundbite of arena)

PESCA: Have you calculated Bruins records when you come in the bear suit and when you don't?

Mr. RICCIO: We haven't lost yet this post season. So, I mean, I'm working.

(Soundbite of arena)

PESCA: But by the third period of that night's games, it was left to a few drunken fans to beg Johnny in the bear suit to score four goals for the team.

(Soundbite of bar)

Unidentified Man: You (unintelligible) right now?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RICCIO: Yeah.

Unidentified Man: Think you can try?

Mr. RICCIO: Yes, I can.

PESCA: Nope, the Bruins lost and in the locker room after the game, dejected players looked ahead. Forty-two-year-old forward Mark Recchi called on his team to adopt a certain attitude.

Mr. MARK RECCHI (Hockey Forward, NHL Bruins): We definitely weren't sharp, and we weren't committed to being as desperate as they were, that's for sure.

PESCA: In the span of a five-minute chat with reporters, Recchi said the words desperate or desperation six times. And a few lockers over, Milan Lucic was using the same thesaurus.

Mr. MILAN LUCIC (Pro Hockey Player, Bruins): That's why everyone says the fourth one's always hardest to get, is because the other team is so desperate. So we got to start playing more desperate, definitely, if we want to get that next win.

PESCA: Well, the Bruins have figured out a way to play like their backs are against the wall. They had lost game six in Philadelphia and now, desperation has been thrust upon them. A game like tonight is quite rare, only the tenth time in the history of North American pro sports where a series has gone the distance after one team established a three-games-to-nil lead.

Matt Thomas runs the definitive site on game seven series, called WhoWins.com. I asked him what's the overall record for every team that's taken a three-games-to-none series lead.

Mr. MATT THOMAS (WhoWins.com): It stands at 281 in three right now, 281 times the leading team finishes it out, three times they don't. So it's a percentage of 98.9 percent.

PESCA: The three are the '42 Maple Leaves, the '75 Islanders and in baseball, the Boston Red Sox in 2004. But six teams that have forced a game seven after three consecutive wins have lost. That actually doesn't surprise streakologist Alan Reifman, a professor at Texas Tech who has studied so-called hot hand research.

Professor ALAN REIFMAN (Streakologist, Texas Tech): Well, the whole tenant of hot hand research is that momentum is overrated. Teams' long-term ability levels tend to win out in the long run.

PESCA: And the Bruins were the better team over the duration of the season. Boston can also draw inspiration from their home fans from the local example of the Red Sox, from dudes in bear suits, and from the statistics. In the Flyers' locker room, the cry of small sample size will undoubtedly ring out through missing teeth and fogged-up visors.

It is, as the signs in Boston's arena say, old-time hockey - and to a lesser extent, a chance to make a valuable contribution to the field of hot hand research.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

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