PITTSBURGH - Like an intravenous line, the Flyers' future captain, Mike Richards, kept feeding his teammates doses of hope through the Eastern Conference finals with his leadership and determination.
But even to the most earnest of players, hockey can be an unforgiving game.
So Richards will have to deal with the queasy feeling he was upstaged by the young superstar, Sidney Crosby, at a critical juncture of yesterday's 6-0 loss to Pittsburgh, which won the best-of-seven series in five games and will play either Detroit or Dallas for the Stanley Cup championship.
The dominating performance sends the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992.
Probably more than any other, the sequence involving Richards and Crosby signaled the end of the Flyers' surprising postseason run.
The Flyers were down, 2-0, when Richards was skating high in the Penguins' zone with room to spare, preparing to either uncoil a shot or set up a teammate. From behind, Crosby stripped Richards of the puck and led a charge toward the Flyers' end of the ice. Crosby blew past the backpedaling Richards and sent a pass to Marian Hossa, who ripped a high shot past goalie Marty Biron.
The rout was officially on.
"They're a very opportunistic team," a disappointed Richards said. "They capitalized on their chances, and we didn't."
If not for Biron, the Flyers never would have gotten past No. 1 seed Montreal in the second round. But Biron got caught in no-man's-land, behind his net, and couldn't recover before Evgeni Malkin tucked a shot past him for a 2-0 lead midway through the first period.
Biron said his stick got caught in the ice when he tried to play the puck.
"I didn't have time to fish it out because the puck went to their guy along the wall, so I tried to get back in the net," he said. "The puck took a weird bounce going back to Malkin. It's disappointing. I think we achieved good things. We just came up short."
The Flyers' lopsided loss to the Penguins was their worst in the playoffs since April 21, 2001, when they lost, 8-0, to the Buffalo Sabres in the sixth and final game of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.