Thirty-five years. It is hard to believe sometimes that it has been that long since the Flyers hoisted the Stanley Cup. They just pushed us all to the brink with a playoff run that none of us will soon forget. It was thrilling, startling, indelible. But it is over, two games short of the goal.
Outplayed for much of the night but not out-efforted -- not last night, not for the last 8 weeks -- the Flyers' dream run ended with a 4-3 defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. After reaching heights that no one predicted, maybe not even them, maybe not even in their hearts, the ending was so shockingly sudden.
Scott Hartnell tied the game at 16:01 of the third period with his second goal of the game, and the Wachovia Center exploded one more time after one more comeback from what seemed like inevitable defeat. But Patrick Kane won it for the Blackhawks at 4:10 of overtime on a weird goal, perfect in a way, as everyone was stuck for a few seconds of suspended animation before it was determined that the puck indeed got past Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton.
It was as if no one wanted to believe it was over.
Thirty-five years. Few will recall that it was Don Earle with the television call when the Flyers won their last Stanley Cup. Everyone remembers the year before, when Gene Hart said, his voice soaring, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Flyers are going to win the Stanley Cup!" Earle, though, had no such operatic aspirations.
And so, he said:
"Faceoff, won, it's all over! The Flyers have won their second in a row! The Flyers have won their second consecutive Stanley Cup, and the whole Flyers bench is on the ice. I'll tell you, they fought from adversity when they had to, and they won the big ones when they had to, and Bernie Parent was big tonight when he had to."
It was May 27, 1975. No one then could have predicted how the voice would echo over the years and the decades and the empty canyons of a franchise's memory.
Since then, all of this has happened: Leon Stickle. The jersey on Billy Penn. The "choking situation." J.J. Daigneault. Ron Hextall and the Conn Smythe. Dave Poulin's two-man shorthanded goal in Quebec. Ed Hospodar and the pre-game brawl in Montreal.
Now, this year has happened. It cannot help but be remembered fondly -- even as the details of the final game fade.
Somehow, the Flyers were tied at 1-1 at the end of a first period in which they were outshot 17-7 -- and it really wasn't that close. All of the energy in the building at the start, from the singing of "God Bless America" on, meant nothing. The Blackhawks took the play to the Flyers early -- and goaltender Michael Leighton, who had been yanked out of Games 1 and 5, was very solid early.
As it turned out, each team scored a power play goal in the first. With Chris Pronger serving his second penalty of the period, it was Dustin Byfuglien in front, on a pass from Jonathan Toews, at 16:49. Then, at 19:33, with the Blackhawks' Brent Sopel serving his second penalty of the period. it was Scott Hartnell getting knocked down in front, struggling to his feet, and deflecting in a shot from Danny Briere.
So, 1-1. For Chicago, the barrage continued in the second period but, to their everlasting credit, the Flyers hung around and then took a 2-1 lead on a beautiful goal, a great play by Ville Leino, knifing through the Chicago defense, holding on, and getting the puck over to Danny Briere -- who dismantled Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi, rifling the puck high and hard.
That was at 8:00. At 9:58, the Blackhawks tied it on a shot from the right circle by Patrick Sharp that sneaked through Leighton's legs. It was not a great goal for Leighton, but it was still only 2-2, despite an overwhelming advantage in shots for Chicago.
But then Chicago took the 3-2 lead at 17:43 of the second on a fine deflection of a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot by Andrew Ladd. And that's where it stood as the second period became the third period and the shot total kept rising in the Blackhawks' favor; it was 27-13 after the second.
In the middle of the third period, though, the Flyers began to build one last round of momentum. The team that came from 3-0 down against Boston to win in seven games dominated the middle stretch of the third, and then then the final stretch. The breakthrough finally came on the Hartnell goal, and the building shook. It will be one more enduring memory, one among many.