PHILADELPHIA -- Just when the adversity seemed too big to overcome, the Philadelphia Flyers found a way -- again.
After coming back from cancer, concussions, the Eric Lindros mess and a two-game deficit to Pittsburgh, the Flyers pulled off another great escape, overcoming a late two-goal deficit against the New Jersey Devils with the help of one of Rick Tocchet's biggest nights in hockey.
Tocchet scored two goals, set up another and made the big play that set up Daymond Langkow's game-winner as the Flyers rallied to beat the Devils 4-3 Tuesday night to even the Eastern Conference finals.
''Whether we win or not, this team is special, I don't care what happens from here on out,'' Tocchet said. ''Like I said, the stuff that has gone on here, it's amazing what these guys have done. It could be a nice story.''
Just to recap. Flyers coach Roger Neilson was diagnosed with cancer in February and replaced by Craig Ramsay. Lindros, the superstar center, hasn't played since March because of a concussion and later was stripped of his captaincy for criticizing team doctors. Keith Primeau got a concussion. Philadelphia rallied from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Penguins in the last round.
And now this remarkable rally against the Devils, a team that was playing its best hockey since winning the Stanley Cup in 1995.
''Our whole team was determined tonight,'' Ramsay said. ''We played gritty, we played hard. We did a good job of winning the battles late in the game.''
The series shifts to the Continental Airlines Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Saturday. New Jersey is 22-4-2 against Philadelphia in the building over the last five years, and only the Flyers latest gut check in the face of adversity prevented the Devils from going home up 2-0.
Tocchet, acquired in a trade with Phoenix on March 8, prevented that by orchestrating a three-goal outburst in a 2:37 span that bridged the end of the second period and start of the third. Brian Boucher made the lead stand, in what turned out to be a chippy game, with saves on Bobby Holik and Patrik Elias in the final 35 seconds.
''For about a five-minute segment we lost or composure and played Flyers hockey instead of Devils hockey, pushing and shoving, gloves in the face,'' Devils coach Larry Robinson said. ''You know they feed off that stuff and that's not our style.''
Scott Gomez, Jason Arnott and Elias scored for New Jersey, which lost for only the third time in 12 playoff games.
With the Devils leading 3-1 late in the second period and ready to sweep the opening two games in Philadelphia, Tocchet single-handedly turned the series around. He set up Eric Desjardins's goal with 38.8 seconds left in the period, scored 1:06 into the third and then went to the net and forced in Langkow's game-winner off the back of defenseman Colin White at 1:58.
The big play was Desjardins' goal. The Devils were controlling the play and Philadelphia wasn't getting any scoring chances.
That all changed shortly after New Jersey killed off a rare penalty. Former Devils player Valeri Zelepukin won a battle along the boards and Tocchet got the puck low in the left circle. He saw Desjardins sneak in from the right point and sent a perfect cross-ice pass that the defenseman redirected into an open net.
''We weathered the storm and then got the big goal by Desjardins at the end of the period on a great play by Tocchet,'' said Boucher, who had 30 saves.
Tocchet tied it 66 seconds into the third period, taking a no-look pass from Primeau from behind the goal line and beating Martin Brodeur from inside the right circle.
The game-winner came 52 seconds later and, at first, it appeared Tocchet had his first career playoff hat trick. He crashed the net on Langkow's slap shot against Brodeur and the puck caromed into the net.
Tocchet was initially given credit for the goal and the game was delayed five minutes as hundreds of hats were thrown on the ice.
''That five minutes was awesome,'' said Tocchet, who quipped that Langkow told him not to change the goal so the crowd would stay in the game. ''It gets us back in the ballgame, the fans are going crazy. Maybe it rattles them, I don't know?''
Replays showed the puck went in off the back of White, who was desperately trying to hold back Tocchet -- going for the rebound on the 2-on 1 break after a turnover by Scott Niedermayer.
Tocchet said being down 3-1 to New Jersey late in the second does not bode well for anyone.
''You can look up the record, they are probably 60-1 in those games,'' Tocchet guessed. ''They never lose those types of games. Getting that late goal in the second breathes life into us.''
Philadelphia mistakes allowed the Devils to grab a two-goal lead in the second.
Jason Arnott broke a 1-1 tie, taking a giveaway by Craig Berube in center ice and beating Boucher with a 35-foot slap shot that deflected off the stick of Flyers defenseman Chris Therien and went into the net after hitting both goalposts at 2:51.
Elias stretched the lead to 3-1, scoring on a backhander on a 2-1 break that Boucher seemed to miss.
''We got away from our hockey for five minutes,'' Elias said. ''We weren't disciplined. It doesn't matter how much of a lead you have, you have to play disciplined for 60 minutes.''
''That's all it took, five minutes,'' Gomez added. ''We let Marty out to dry.''
After being badly outplayed in a 4-1 loss in Game 1, Tocchet got the Flyers going in Game 2 just 1:38 after the opening faceoff. He won a battle in the corner and that led to a seeing-eye shot from the left point by defenseman Adam Burt. A screened Brodeur made the save, but Tocchet dragged the rebound across the crease with his skate and put the puck into the open net despite being checked.
Gomez, who has scored three goals since Robinson told him to pick up his play in the Toronto series, tied it at 13:23 by deflecting a point shot by White past Boucher.
Tocchet felt the Devils might have been getting a little too much respect after winning game 1.
''Everybody had us written off,'' Tocchet, who has 50 playoff goals in 16 NHL seasons. ''Maybe this game gets us back in. No one has won the series but this get us back in the frame of mind that we can beat them.''
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