By Tim Panaccio, Philadelphia Inquirer -- April 28, 2000
Among his proteges. Flyers rookie center Simon Gagne grew up in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, and had more than his share of hockey idols. Some of the great players of Montreal that came from those parts. He also admits that some of his heroes are Europeans. One of them, Jaromir Jagr, is in this series.
"You need some example, a model, someone you try to be," Gagne said before last night's game. "And for me, it was guys like [Mark] Recchi, [Joe] Sakic and Jagr. I have always like their styles. They are good models for a lot of kids. I am not very old to be someone's model. But Jagr is such a strong guy. He makes the great play. That last goal he got against Washington [in Game 5 of the quarterfinals], he made it by himself.
"Now we play against one of the best players in the world. It will be exciting with him on the ice."
Gagne's skill, poise evident in playoffs
by Sam Donnellon, Philadelphia Daily News -- April 25, 2000
It wasn't that long ago that Eric Desjardins was a Flyers heartthrob. It wasn't that long ago that he was the young, handsome, French-Canadian face with more options than a luxury SUV.
And then it happened. On road trips this season, "Rico" was paired with the youngest Flyer, a fuzz-faced cherub named Simon Gagne, not yet 20 then, not yet comfortable with the English language.
Rico and Simon went to buy shoes. Someone recognized Rico. Rico got old in a hurry.
"The guy asks Simon, 'Hey, is that Eric Desjardins?' " the Flyers' captain recalled after yesterday's practice. "Simon says, 'Yeah.' "
"And then he says, 'And you. . .You are his son?' "
Desjardins flashed the smile that has made him one of the more swooned-over Flyers in recent decades. Even with the Canadian exchange rate factored in, the numbers don't add up. Desjardins is 30, a decade older than the recently turned-20 Gagne. And Desjardins' only son is still a toddler, not a rookie NHL player who has played like a veteran all-star in this playoff season.
"Do I look that old, or does he look that young?" Desjardins said of Gagne. "I told my wife, 'I now have another son.' "
There is more than a little truth to that. Besides road roommate, Desjardins has been Gagne's patriarch this season, answering questions, handing out advice when asked, offering perspective on what would seem to be an overwhelming amount of responsibility for a player who is younger than some of his teammates' replacement teeth.
"When the season started," Gagne said, "I felt like a little kid. Like, what am I doing here?"
This is what he is doing: Simon Gagne plays on the power play, plays in shorthanded situations, and by now is almost expected to score big goals or at least set them up.
He scored 20 goals this season and had 28 assists, and he got better each month without ever experiencing any puppylike confusion.
In the postseason, he has been everywhere, eclipsed only by the play of goalie Brian Boucher and his hockey dad, Desjardins. So what advice did the old man give on the cusp of the playoffs?
"I gave it in French," Desjardins said. "I just said to him that it's the same game. There's just more coverage. Everything is more pressure. Every little thing is a big thing at the end of the season. That's what I tried to tell him. You did the job the whole year, it's no different in the playoffs."
This is a lesson that needed to be given once.
Gagne scored the game-winning goal in the Flyers' 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the Buffalo series. More important than his five points in the five-game series was the timing of each. In the 5-2 clincher, for example, he beat out a defenseman to set up the third goal and deked out Dominik Hasek for the fourth goal after the Sabres had pulled to within one again.
These goals are the knockout punch missing in recent Flyers playoff failures.
The 22nd pick overall in the 1998 amateur draft, Gagne may already be the second most crucial entity in the Flyers' playoff run, right behind the play of the 23-year-old Boucher. With Eric Lindros out and Rod Brind'Amour in Carolina, two of the team's more relied-upon offensive performers of the decade are not in the mix. Keith Primeau and Mark Recchi have replaced them, but they are saddled somewhat by expectations and reputations, drawing the attention of the opposition's best players.
Gagne is the "X" factor, or the Generation X factor. As his season rolled on and his points rolled up, he has drawn more scrutiny. But throw in John LeClair and Rick Tocchet and now, even Daymond Langkow, and it's obvious: You can't stop them all.
For all his speed, for all his stick skills and tenacity and vision, calm may be Gagne's greatest ally. Desjardins shakes his head as he is reminded again of his pass to Gagne in the slot during Game 5 against Buffalo, and how the winger cut across the slot to pop the puck past Hasek. On a penalty shot two games before, Desjardins, wary of choppy ice and Hasek's big-game reputation, fired into the goalie's pads.
Where did this punk come off showing more poise?
"That's my personality," Gagne said. "People think that when I was young everything was easy. But I had some, not problems, but. . ."
Let's say, issues. As thin as he is now, Gagne was much thinner when his Bantam coach cut him at age 13. Two weeks later, parched for goals, the coach took him back. Gagne led that team in goals and points.
"After the season, the coach said [he was] sorry about what he did," Gagne said. "Sometimes I still see him and we say hello. He was a good coach. No big thing."
The scene was played out the following season, only this time it took the Midget coach two months to reconsider. The reservation about Gagne, besides those bones sticking through his skin, was that he didn't play much of a physical game and would be rattled like wind chimes when he started getting banged by the big boys.
It was similar to the reservations the Flyers had entering training camp. Gagne would be a pro someday, probably a good one, but not until he ate a little more steak and pasta, took a few more hits, refined his game. He was headed back to Juniors when camp began, and he was already targeted to play in the World Junior Championships for Team Canada.
You know what happened. He made the Flyers, stuck and played so well in December - he was rookie of the month - that he never had to go to the World Juniors, either. But his name kept coming up in other places. Gagne was a constant in trade rumors.
"This is my first season where everything went well and they kept me with the team," he said. "I was very surprised [to stay all season]. . .But everything I read about and heard from [general manager] Bobby Clarke said that he would keep me with the team and I would be here for 10 years. "I trust him. I would like to stay here. I hope. . ."
His voice trails off. He likes it here, has made it his home. He is living with Karine Drolet, his girlfriend of four years, a woman he has known since she was a girl. She is his rock, his calm, and perhaps as important, his cook. He would like to marry someday, he said. He would like to have a family of his own. This summer, he would like Karine to learn more English, so she won't feel so all alone when he's shopping for shoes in Ottawa.
But that's not now. Now is all about hockey.
"He's really got nothing else," Desjardins said. "That's the best thing to see. When a guy takes his job seriously and is professional at an early age like that, you know he's going to be all right. He's going to have a long career."
Associated Press (By Alan Robinson) -- April 21, 2000
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Buffalo Sabres kept stalling and stalling, expecting Dominik Hasek to steal a game. While they were waiting, the Philadelphia Flyers swiped the series.
The Flyers scored two relatively soft goals against the NHL's premier playoff goaltender, one by Dan McGillis and the other set up by him, and closed out the Sabres 5-2 in Game 5 of their NHL first-round series Thursday night. McGillis' long slap shot sailed by Hasek with eight seconds left in the first period, and his floater from just inside the blue line was redirected by John LeClair for the go-ahead goal midway through the second period.
Those are the kind of goals Hasek seldom allows in the postseason, especially last season when his strong play carried the Sabres to the Stanley Cup finals.
Daymond Langkow made it 3-1 slightly more than three minutes after LeClair's goal, an advantage much too big to overcome for a star-less Sabres offense that scored only eight goals in the five games.
Simon Gagne also scored a power-play goal at 9:55 of the third period after Stu Barnes' goal had briefly cut the Flyers' lead to 3-2. The Flyers, who had the NHL's second-best power play during the season, scored nine of their 14 goals in the series on the power play
Bounced by the Sabres in a first-round upset in 1998 and again by Toronto a year ago, the top-seeded Flyers now advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 1997.
The Flyers' second-round opponent remains undetermined, but will be seventh-seeded Pittsburgh if the Penguins don't blow a 3-1 series lead against Washington. Game 5 of that series is Friday night in Washington. After Gagne's goal, some Flyers fans began chanting, `"We Want Pittsburgh'" - and no wonder, since the Flyers were 3-0-1 against the Penguins this season.
The Flyers helped break two longstanding NHL playoff rules in eliminating Buffalo 4-1 - Hasek never gives up easy goals in the postseason, and he always keeps the Sabres in the playoffs longer than they should expect to hang around.
McGillis' goal was the crusher, and it undid everything that Buffalo had done up until then to take the 1-0 lead. Richard Smehlik scored at 8:44 of the first, a slap shot from the left point off a faceoff won by Michael Peca. The Flyers kept pressing for the tying goal, and finally got it as McGillis took new Flyers captain Eric Desjardins' cross-ice pass and teed up a slap shot from the left point. The shot was so hard that it rattled the water bottle atop the net as it whistled past Hasek's right shoulder.
The Flyers scored at least one power-play goal in every game of the series, a streak kept alive when LeClair scored. McGillis' shot hardly seemed threatening as he let it go but Hasek, apparently screened, didn't pick it up well, allowing LeClair to put his stick on it.
That goal reenergized a noisy crowd of 19,801, and the momentum carried over to Langkow's goal at 12:52, or 3:05 after LeClair's goal. Gagne dug the puck out along the rear boards and fed Rick Tocchet, who moved it to Langkow in the low slot.
Langkow added an empty-net goal with one-tenth of a second remaining - the least amount of time possible for a goal.
As the Sabres left the ice, coach Lindy Ruff was struck by a flying object on the left side of his face. The extent of his injury, if any, wasn't known, but several Sabres assistants tried to climb the glass behind the bench to point out who threw the object.
Flyers rookie goaltender Bryan Boucher, whose 1.47 goals-against average going into the game was lower than Hasek's 1.98, enjoyed a relatively comfortable evening, stopping 20 of 22 shots as he won his first NHL playoff series.
The Philadelphia Inquirer -- April 17, 2000
And win makes three...The Flyers, on Sabre soil, beat them with a 2-0 score. Gagne picked up a point for his assist in the LeClair goal.
"...Simon Gagne dashed behind the net awaiting the puck, which came off Primeau's stick in the right corner. LeClair then cut hard to the net, caught Gagne's pass square on the tape, and slid the puck into the far corner of the net.
'I went back on purpose with my stick hand on the puck so that [Sabres goalie Dominik] Hasek would follow me, and then I threw it out to Johnny,' Gagne said..."
TICKER --- April 13, 2000
PHILADELPHIA (TICKER) -- Rookie Simon Gagne's [first playoff and] power-play goal with 14:27 remaining snapped a tie as the Philadelphia Flyers edged the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, in the opener of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Rookie goaltender Brian Boucher stopped 18 shots, including a key save late, for the Flyers, who will look to take a 2-0 series lead at home on Friday.
With Buffalo's Geoff Sanderson in the penalty box for charging, Gagne picked up a loose puck at the right side of the net during a scramble and lifted a backhander over goaltender Dominik Hasek for the game-winner.
Buffalo, which produced just five shots in the third period, had a chance to tie it in the final minute, but Boucher kicked aside defenseman Jason Woolley's blast from the point to preserve the win.
Hasek, who led the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, stopped 27 shots before falling to 29-23 in 52 career playoff games.
Keith Jones and Daymond Langkow scored just under four minutes apart late in the first period to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead. Jones' goal came with the man advantage, while Langkow tallied on a shorthanded breakaway with eight seconds remaining.
Buffalo answered with a pair of goals in the second period on Stu Barnes' power-play goal at 5:53 and Miroslav Satan's floater from the right faceoff circle just under seven minutes later.
Philadelphia Daily News (By Les Bowen) -- April 5, 2000
ATLANTA - The goal that puts an opponent away, that gets a team out of spending the final minute of a game diving on hand grenades all over its own zone, has been an elusive commodity for the Flyers this season.
Last night, though, they got it. Rookie Simon Gagne shrugged off Atlanta defenseman Yannick Tremblay and got his stick on Mark Recchi's perfect pass at the front of the crease, just before Gagne flew into Atlanta goalie Damian Rhodes, with 1:35 left in regulation, setting the 5-3 final score.
True, it came against the first-year expansion Thrashers, the NHL's worst team, with 14 wins and 39 points. But it did come. And it wasn't easy. One of those 14 Atlanta wins and three of the 39 points were gained in the previous two meetings with the Flyers. For some reason, the speedy but unimposing Thrashers play with a lot of confidence against the Flyers.
"I lost a couple pounds on my shoulder," said Gagne, who acknowledged he had been pressing for his 20th goal. He became the first Flyers rookie to hit that mark since Mikael Renberg in 1993-94.
Recchi drove down the right side of the ice, hustling up the scoring chance, then held the pass until Gagne was where he needed to be.
"That was a very nice pass," Gagne said. "Right on the blade, right in front of the net."
Flyers interim coach Craig Ramsay, who grew sensitive to the subject of scoring troubles while the Flyers managed just a dozen goals in their previous six games, acknowledged feeling pessimistic when an Andy Delmore power-play drive clanked off the post a little earlier in the third.
"I thought, 'Here we go, it's just not going to go in,' " Ramsay said. "That was a courageous effort. . .he really drove hard. He was determined to get there and get that job done."
Ramsay's team again closed within two points of idle New Jersey in the chase for first place in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have three games left, all against nonplayoff opponents - at home tomorrow against the Thrashers and Saturday against Boston and Sunday at the New York Rangers. The Devils have just two games left, both at home, tomorrow against Buffalo and Saturday against Florida.
"Washington [even with the Flyers, with 99 points] lost, and we've got two back at home now," Recchi said. "We've got a good shot at it now."
The Flyers were pleased to score some goals and to finally solve the Thrashers, but they knew they didn't play a great game after taking a quick, 2-0 lead.
"I thought we got off to a great, great start, but then maybe we thought it was going to be too easy or something, but we really let them back in," Recchi said. "We've got to be a little smarter. We will be [tomorrow]."
Ramsay said having a little unaccustomed good fortune around the net early might have thrown his team off its game.
"The first 10 minutes or so, it looked like we were going to dominate the game. We did everything we wanted to do," Ramsay said. "I think after all those worries about scoring goals, we said, 'Hey, maybe tonight's the night we're going to score a bunch.' And we started to make some funny plays."
The Flyers scored just 1:50 into the game. Keith Jones flung the puck from the left corner to the crease, where it hit Valeri Zelepukin and went in.
With 8:34 left in the first, it was 2-0. Keith Primeau walked out from the back boards with the puck and slung his seventh goal of the season into the far side.
Then the Flyers' discipline broke down a bit, and they started trading chances with the Thrashers. A really wobbly penalty-kill ended with the puck in the Flyers' net just one second before Luke Richardson's holding penalty expired. Rookie defenseman Sergei Vyshedkevich had all kinds of time to walk down from the right point and tee up a blast off the far post and in, his first NHL goal in his fourth game, with 4:38 left in the first.
Some strong work down low by the Flyers' fourth line set up the next goal as Craig Berube eventually potted a Delmore rebound. It was Berube's third goal of the season, 7:42 into the second.
Then the Thrashers' power play struck again. At 9:09, Flyers captain Eric Desjardins went off for holding - a penalty set up when his partner, Chris Therien, had a chance to clear and instead accidentally left a drop pass behind the net for a Thrasher. Six seconds later, Andreas Karlsson nicely tipped home Frantisek Kaberle's point drive, and it was 3-2, 9:15 into the second.
Delmore made it 4-2, whipping down the slot and whacking home a Daymond Langkow rebound with 6:17 left in the second, after some patient work with the puck by Zelepukin.
"It'd be nice if I could get one of those a game, sitting there in the slot like that," Delmore said.
The Thrashers made it 4-3 after some sloppy corner play by the Flyers. The puck careened out to the left point, where David Harlock one-timed it. Brian Boucher made the initial save, but couldn't stop Dean Sylvester's rebound, with 8:33 left in regulation.
After that, the Flyers played better, though their power play remained in a slump, and finally, they got the killer.
"He used his speed to get to the net," Recchi said of Gagne. "I knew he was going to get open; it was just a matter of when."