CROUCHED ON the ice with one knee in the air, Michael Leighton looked behind him and his heart sank.

At first, Leighton wasn't sure of the puck's location. Having watched Patrick Kane's perfectly placed shot go under his stick, Leighton thought the puck may have been under his pads.

But when he turned around and saw the puck wedged in between the base of the net and the twine - long before the referee had signaled a goal and the Flyers' worst fears had been confirmed - Leighton knew the Flyers' dream season had ended.

"He just walked out of the corner and there was a guy crashing the net," an emotional Leighton said. "I just cheated a little bit and the puck slid right under my pad. It went right under me.

"I think everyone was wondering where it was. I looked back and I knew I was done. It was tough to swallow. It's something you dream for your whole life, you get there, and it ends like that. It's tough."

The Flyers' miracle run to the Stanley Cup finals ended with Kane's thud in the back of the net, as the Flyers and the 20,327 fans at the Wachovia Center threw their hands up in disbelief. Some shrieked in horror.

All magic runs out eventually.

Kane's goal, just 4:06 into overtime, gave the Blackhawks a stunning, 4-3 win in Game 6, delivering Chicago its first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

The Flyers' date with destiny will have to wait at least another year, the city of Philadelphia's Stanley Cup drought has been pushed to 36 years. This was the sixth time the Flyers advanced to the Stanley Cup finals since last winning in 1975, with each run coming just short.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Kane's snap shot was perhaps the most bizarre goal of the 94 that have clinched the Stanley Cup in National Hockey League history. It was jaw-dropping.

"Things happened quick," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "It came in off the angle. I saw one of their players skate across the ice like he had won something. I got a little pit in my stomach.

"But I didn't know it went in. I didn't see the goal."

Many of the Flyers, teary-eyed just minutes after watching their 8-month quest end with the snap of the wrist, couldn't come to grips with the ending. Or the ending of their magical run.

"It was an unreal moment," Ville Leino said. "You really didn't even know what happened there. I didn't even know you win a Stanley Cup on a goal like that. I have never seen a Stanley Cup won on a goal like that."

With the look of shock fresh on his face, Laviolette congratulated his team on completing yet another comeback. This comeback fell just short.

"I'm proud of the guys for giving themselves an opportunity to compete for the Cup," Laviolette said. "It hurts right now. It's going to sting for a while.

"But they never quit. They are a resilient group. I think we outgrew adversity. I'm proud of the way they competed and the way they fought."

In the face of adversity, with the Stanley Cup being polished just a few feet away in the hallway, the Flyers fought through one last deficit, trailing 3-2 heading into the third period. Hartnell's goal, which came with just 3:59 remaining in the third period, sent the game to overtime and gave the Flyers faith that they could pull out one more goal to send the series back to Chicago for Game 7.

And they had the bulk of the scoring chances in overtime, including a near breakaway for Mike Richards on the first shift. The Flyers pressed early in overtime, but didn't come up with the one scoring chance that counted.

"It was a tough game," Richards said. "We had a lot of opportunities. We missed the net on a lot of them. In the end, they got the last bounce.

"It happens every time, you seem to have control of the overtime and they capitalize on one of their chances. It hurts a lot. It was a good learning experience for us. We have to take out of it what it takes to win. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to go for, unfortunately."

The Flyers, a team that was picked to win the Stanley Cup by many in October, turned a lot of heads in the postseason with a 14-9 record. As the seventh seed, they extinguished New Jersey, Boston and Montreal and game within a few bounces of knocking off a 3-to-1 favorite in the finals.

This was a Flyers team that at one point in December was in 29th place in the league and second to last in the Eastern Conference. This was a team that dressed seven different goaltenders, fired a well-liked coach in John Stevens, and hobbled through more injuries than a front line in battle.

They erased a 3-0 series lead against the Bruins in the second round, and a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 of that series. They became just the fourth professional sports team ever to erase a 3-0 series hole.

"In the long run, everyone will sit back and we should be proud of what we've done," Jeff Carter said. "The adversity that we faced, the coaching changes, we were basically last place in the conference and we battled back. We battled all playoffs, just to get to this point. That feels good, but it definitely hurts right now."

Carter said he still believed the Flyers were going to win Game 6 and erase just one more hole, one more deficit, one more time.

"Definitely," Carter said. "Going into this game, we were still going to win the Stanley Cup. I think everyone in this room believed that."

Along the way, the Flyers captured the imagination and spirit of a city that craved another, if unexpected, championship. Sports fans in Philadelphia that had long forgotten about the sport were suddenly wearing orange and watching hockey in June.

"I'm very proud," Laviolette said. "The way we played, we never quit. We never gave up. They kept fighting."

Despite not skating off the ice hoisting the Cup, the Flyers left a footprint that won't be forgotten in this town - or this sport - for a long time.

"Right now, it's tough to appreciate everything we went through," Danny Briere said. "It's going to take a few days to get over the sting of coming this far and going home empty-handed. I'm proud of my teammates. We made a late surge. I'm going to remember this for a long time."

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.