TORONTO (Ticker) -- Most experts predicted the playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers would be a titanic battle that went the distance. For a change, the predictions proved true.
Travis Green scored midway through double overtime as the Maple Leafs avoided elimination and posted a 2-1 victory over the Flyers to force a deciding seventh game in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Celebrating his 38th birthday, Ed Belfour turned aside 35 shots, including 15 after regulation to keep his team's chances alive.
"It was great, thanks to Green," Belfour said of his birthday. "We showed a lot of character. We have a never-say-die attitude."
Toronto took advantage of the opportunity Belfour provided, as Green pounced on a loose puck in front and backhanded it over a sprawled Roman Cechmanek for his first career playoff overtime goal.
"It was a relief," Green said. "We live to play another game. We've got one more game that we've got to get the job done. Quite a relief when the puck went in."
Robert Reichel gave the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead 10 1/2 minutes into the game, capitalizing on a miscue by Cechmanek for his second tally of the series. But the Czech goaltender got even late in the second period, stopping Reichel on a penalty shot to keep the contest even at 1-1.
Jeremy Roenick knotted the game two minutes earlier with his third goal of the playoffs for Philadelphia, which played without top defenseman Eric Desjardins due to a broken foot.
After drudging through the third multi-overtime game of the series, the teams meet Tuesday in Philadelphia for the chance to advance and face the Presidents' Trophy-winning Ottawa Senators in the conference semifinals.
"We worked all year to get home advantage and now we're going to use it," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. "The building will be jumping. Guys are going to use that energy and we're going to have to bank on that."
"We don't know what's going to happen," Toronto coach Pat Quinn said. "One of us is not going to win. We just have to make sure it's them, not us."
The series, in addition to the Minnesota-Colorado Western Conference quarterfinal matchup, marks the first time since 1950 that Games Six and Seven will be played on consecutive nights.
"They've played just as many minutes as we have, so it's going to be a huge challenge for both teams to quickly replenish and recharge," Philadelphia captain Keith Primeau said. "But because of what's at stake, it won't be hard for guys to get motivated."
Last season, Toronto posted a 4-1 record when faced with elimination in the postseason. It continued its incredible resiliency in this one.
After several failed attempts to clear the puck from their zone, the Flyers thought Primeau had achieved the task. But defenseman Robert Svehla gloved down the puck at the right point and slapped a shot that went wide of the right goalpost.
At the left side of the net, Darcy Tucker retrieved the puck and shoved a shot that Cechmanek slid to deny. But Green beat former Maple Leaf Dmitry Yushkevich to the rebound and flipped it in for his second goal of the postseason.
"It was bang-bang," Green said. "I came off the bench and (Svehla) made a good play pinching the puck. Tucksy threw it out front and it came right on my tape."
"I tried to bank it in off Cechmanek and I guess it hit him and went right to Travis," Tucker said. "He backhanded it in. I didn't see it. All I saw was his ugly face come running toward me, so I was happy."
The Maple Leafs were given an opportunity to get on the scoreboard 5:33 into the first period when Claude Lapointe joined teammate John LeClair in the penalty box, thanks to a questionable holding the stick call. But they could not penetrate Cechmanek, who stopped all four shots he faced, including two on the 70-second two-man disadvantage.
But while attempting to clear the puck from behind his net, Cechmanek collided with Reichel, causing the goalie's glove to come off. Defenseman Marcus Ragnarsson shoved it toward the crease, but as Cechmanek bent over to pick it up, Reichel fired a shot from against the low right boards that sailed over the hunched goaltender at 10:35 for a 1-0 Toronto lead.
Philadelphia nearly evened the game with 3:15 left in the first when Primeau completed a pass to Simon Gagne from the right boards. Alone in the slot, the speedy left wing deked but could not slip the puck by Belfour's right pad.
With 33 seconds to go, Gary Roberts walked out from behind the net and attempted to stuff the puck inside the left post. Instead of going in, it trickled under Cechmanek and across the crease.
In Game Three, Roenick was dazed by a check from Tucker but regrouped and retaliated by scoring a goal. History repeated itself in this one.
Just 68 seconds into the second, Roenick was shoved into the boards from behind by Svehla, but Philadelphia was not awarded a power play. Less than four minutes later, the Flyers' emotional leader paid back Toronto with his scoring prowess.
Sami Kapanen carried into the Leafs' zone on the left side and dropped a pass for Roenick. After skating into the circle, the gritty center unleashed a slap shot from the faceoff dot that beat Belfour to the stick side at 15:23 to draw Philadelphia even.
"Overtimes and physical games, that's what the playoffs are all about," Roenick said. "It's the most exciting time of the year for both the players and the fans. This series has been nothing short of spectacular for everybody to watch. It's lived up to the hype."
While coming out from behind the Flyers' net with 2:45 remaining in the period, Tie Domi dished to Reichel in the slot. The Toronto center's point-blank shot bounced off the right post, but he was given a second chance by referee Paul Devorski.
After Philadelphia gained control of the puck, Devorski ruled that Cechmanek intentionally threw his stick to break up Domi's pass and awarded the Leafs the third playoff penalty shot in team history.
Permitted to use any of the five players on the ice at the time, Quinn chose Reichel, who unexpectedly fired a slap shot from the hashmarks that bounced off Cechmanek's chest.
"I know Roman for a long time, and he knows me, too," Reichel said. "I tried to surprise him and I probably did. I just didn't hit the spot. If I had put that puck a little left, it probably would have went in."
It was the second penalty shot Toronto received against the Flyers in the postseason. Captain Mats Sundin, who converted against Buffalo's Dominik Hasek one month later, was stopped by John Vanbiesbrouck on April 29, 1999.
The Flyers were given their first power play of the game 3:56 into the third but failed to register a shot on goal. They did have a good chance with 13 minutes left, but Lapointe's redirection of a pass by Marty Murray was stopped by Belfour.
With Nik Antropov back in the lineup after missing four games with a broken foot, Toronto showed its desperation in the opening minutes of overtime.
Alexander Mogilny, who has five goals in the series, wristed a shot from the top of the right circle that sailed high and wide of the net 95 seconds into the extra session. With Philadelphia on a power play, Owen Nolan's shot from in front was denied by Cechmanek.
"They came out extremely hard and we weathered the storm," Roenick said. "But then it was anyone's game."
The Leafs also had their chances late in the first overtime. A dump-in around the left boards took a strange bounce and slid through the crease with eight minutes remaining. Just 30 seconds later, Sundin's backhand attempt from the right side was stopped.
Sundin and Roberts had opportunities seconds apart late in the period, but Cechmanek was equal to the task.
Roberts nearly ended the game 41 seconds into the second overtime. After intercepting a cross-ice pass by Ragnarsson at the Philadelphia blue line, he blasted a slap shot that Cechmanek blocked with his left arm.
"We would've preferred to win, but as competitive as this series has been and as good as both teams are, ultimately it had to go seven," Primeau said.