by Rich Hofmann, Philadelphia Daily News --- May 19, 2000
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - All series long, Flyers interim coach Craig Ramsay has promised Simon Gagne would become a factor against the New Jersey Devils. Last night, as the Flyers hung on by their collective fingernails, Gagne delivered.
With less than 2 minutes remaining in a one-goal game - with the Devils appearing ready to pepper the Flyers and goaltender Brian Boucher until the end - Gagne exploded. He abused Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski with his speed and his moves, then he abused Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur for good measure. He deked right around the veteran goaltender and tucked the puck behind him with 1:49 left, giving the Flyers the 4-2 lead that ended up being the final score in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.
The sound you heard as the Devils' fans filed out of Continental Airlines Arena was the Flyers collectively exhaling, and Gagne exhaling loudest of all.
"I was just trying to use my speed against the defenseman," Gagne said. "Then I came in on Brodeur. I was a little bit surprised. I thought he was going to try to poke-check me on the goal. But he didn't try it - I was very surprised. I was just happy to score the goal on Brodeur."
The truth is, he was happy to score on anybody. It was Gagne's fourth goal of the playoffs, but he hadn't scored one since the second game of the Pittsburgh series in the semifinals. This was the team's seventh game since then, but only Gagne's sixth. In the middle of his dry run, Gagne reinjured his left hand when the Penguins' Tyler Wright slashed him in the first period of Game 4 of that series.
As his hand recovered, Gagne says, he hasn't pressed. At the same time, he is quick to acknowledge, "My game hasn't been on my best, so I'm pretty happy."
Last night, because of Daymond Langkow's concussion suffered Tuesday night, Gagne was moved up to the first line. He played left wing, Mark Recchi moved over to center, and John LeClair flip-flopped to the right wing. The result wasn't anything spectacular, not until the end, but you could notice one thing: Gagne seemed stronger on his skates, better at holding on to the puck through contact, than he has in a while.
Still, he finds it difficult to use his greatest weapon - his speed - against the Devils.
"They play it so tight," Gagne said. "It's a team that plays very well defensively. There isn't a lot of space on the ice. And I think we were a little lucky tonight. The pucks were [bouncing] pretty well for us tonight, rolling for us."
Gagne said the other day his hand was 90 percent healthy. Now, he has upped the estimate to 95 percent. He has a chance to be a real key in this series, and you get the sense he now knows it. Now that he's found the back of the net again, you sense this 20-year-old rookie has had a bit of a weight lifted off his shoulders.
He wouldn't be a hockey player, though, if he didn't deny all of that and scoff at the notion the momentum has shifted.
"This was only one game," Gagne said. "It's 2-1 for us. You still need four to win the series. For sure, it's not done."
By Wayne Fish, The Hockey News --- May 5, 2000
Although there’s an asterisk next to Simon Gagne’s name indicating he’s officially still an NHL rookie, the Philadelphia Flyers’ first-year player is acting anything but.
Gagne, 20, was fourth in rookie scoring with 20 goals and 48 points this season, and finished the playoff series against Buffalo with five points in five games.
The left winger is looked upon as a veteran, holding down a spot on the second line with Rick Tocchet and Daymond Langkow.
“When you play 82 games in the NHL, you start to know a little bit about the game,” said Gagne after he scored a third period goal to break open Game 5 in the Flyers’ 5-2 clincher April 20. “The intensity level is higher in the play-offs, but those 82 games in the regular season helped me adapt.”
What also helped was interim coach Craig Ramsay’s faith in the four rookies-Gagne, goaltender Brian Boucher and defensemen Andy Delmore and Mark Eaton-and giving them major roles in the playoffs.
“It’s helps when (the coaches) have trust in you,” said Gagne, who led all NHL rookies in playoff scoring. “They put you on the ice on the power play, penalty kill. They’ve put Andy and Mark and me on the power play and when they do that, you get confidence.”
Gagne was a somewhat shy, uncertain 19-year-old from Ste-Foy Que., when wh arrived at training camp last September. But he quickly got into the swing of things, thanks to help from Mark Recchi, a frequent linemate, on the ice, and Eric Desjardins, his road roommate, off it.
“He (Desjardins) is the same kind of person as me,” Gagne said. “We tell jokes in French, we speak the same language. He started as a rookie when he was 19, too. So that helps. It ( 10-year age difference) doesn’t matter. We talk like we’re the same age.”
Gagne was a key offensive performer for the whole series against Buffalo. He’s listed as only 6 feet and 165 pounds, but held up well to the Sabres’ tenacious body checking. He and Desjardins were tied for the team lead in points with five.
“Playing in the NHL was always my dream,” he said. “Now I’m playing with guys like Recchi and Tocchet. It’s pretty unbelievable.”