Ping-pong ball, Kane haunt gallant Flyers
Oh, that damn ping-pong ball.
With a little luck in the 2007 lottery, the Flyers would have had the first overall draft pick that summer and would have selected winger Patrick Kane.
The Flyers had the worst record that season, but they lost the lottery to the Chicago Blackhawks, who chose Kane.
The same guy who broke the collective hearts of the Flyers and their loyal fans Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center.
Kane scored 4:06 into overtime to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win that clinched their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
"It stings. It hurts," said Flyers winger Scott Hartnell after a heroic, two-goal performance. "It'll give us more fuel in training camp next year."
Kane had three goals and five assists in the Finals. On Wednesday, he also had a pair of assists as Chicago won the series, four games to two.
The Flyers played gallantly and had a remarkable playoff run, highlighted by their comeback from a 3-0 series deficit against Boston in the conference semifinals.
But Chicago was the better team. The Hawks showed it by thoroughly outplaying the Flyers in the last two games.
The first period figured to set the tone, and the Hawks were dominating. At one point, they were outshooting the Flyers, 16-3. They finished with a 41-24 advantage in shots, and they controlled the game with their passing, fore-checking and speed.
But the Flyers, to their credit, would not go away. They sent it into OT when Hartnell scored with 3:59 left in regulation, and they almost won it when Jeff Carter had an open net with 1:29 remaining.
Carter couldn't get the shot up, and Hawks goalie Antti Niemi, who was sprawled on the ice, was able to make the save,
Throughout the game _ and most of the series _ the Flyers had only one line working. Danny Briere, Hartnell and Ville Leino combined for all three goals and seven points. Leino tied an NHL rookie record with 21 playoff points, and Briere fell one point shy of the NHL record for points in the Finals _ 13 by someone named Wayne Gretzky in 1988.
The Briere line was plus-15 in the series.
The Mike Richards-Carter and Simon Gagne line was a combined minus-21 in the Finals.
So where do the Flyers go in the off-season?
Probably shopping for a goalie.
Michael Leighton had a very good season and was superb in the conference finals (three shutouts) against Montreal, but he was shaky in the Finals _ and allowed a bad goal to Kane, who was deep inside the left circle, nearly at the goal line, when his shot appeared to go through the goalie's legs for the Cup-winner.
The hunch here is that the Flyers, who have said they want to re-sign Leighton, will now explore the goalie market. Montreal's Carey Price (not my No. 1 choice), Vancouver's Cory Schneider, Nashville's Dan Ellis and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier are among the candidates.
But that's for another day.
The Flyers, seventh-seeded in the East, should be saluted for a sensational two-month playoff march in which they overcame injuries, deficits and higher-seeded teams as they came within two wins of their first Cup since 1975.
"We went through a lot this year as a group," Richards said. "I can't analyze the season right now, but like I said, we went through a lot. We've gone through a lot together. When you go through stuff like that, I think it brings the group closer together."