YOU DON'T PLAY an elimination game on your home ice, a record crowd of 20,307 exorting you, with hesitancy, hoping to somehow tiptoe into Game 7 while the other team's head is turned.
Scott Hartnell - and for a while, only Scott Hartnell - seemed to understand this, on the night the Flyers' amazing 56-day playoff journey lurched to a heartbreaking end. The grizzly-faced winger, easy to picture wearing blue facepaint and following Mel Gibson into battle waving an axe, almost worked another Flyers postseason miracle. He scored twice and figured in the other Flyers goal, just as surely as if he'd been awarded an assist.
Again, the Hartnell line with Danny Briere in the middle and Ville Leino on the other wing was far and away the Flyers' best, which was both a good and a bad thing, bad in that the top line once more was no factor whatsoever; Jeff Carter capped a miserable evening by bouncing the would-be game-winner off Antti Niemi's shoulder early in overtime.
"It was almost a storybook ending, to get this into Game 7, but it wasn't meant to be," Hartnell said after a flat-angle Patrick Kane goal gave the Chicago Blackhawks a Stanley Cup-clinching 4-3 victory, 4 minutes and 6 seconds into overtime of Game 6. "They played well, they played hard, they dominated us for stretches almost every game. They're good champions.
"A bounce here, a bounce there, it could have gone either way. It stings, it hurts, I'm sure it'll be in the back of our memories for a while here. This summer and next training camp, it'll give us a little more fuel to be on the right side of things."
Hartnell gave the Flyers life with 27 seconds left in a puzzling, stumbling first period. The Flyers trailed 1-0, the shots were 17-3 in the Blackhawks' favor, when Chicago's Brent Sopel took an interference penalty, 53 seconds left in the first. As the Flyers' once-dominant power play slogged sloppily through its third advantage of the period, Hartnell was knocked down in front, got up, saw or heard a shot thud off Niemi's pads, and niftily tucked the puck through Niemi's legs.
The Flyers went to the first intermission tied, somehow.
"I think we played the same way in the first period as we did in Game 5 in their building, where we were standing around and watching," Hartnell said between periods. "I don't know if we were nervous or just waiting to see what they were going to do. This is not our style of play; it is not effective and it doesn't win hockey games. We have to pick it up for sure."
Eight minutes into the second, Hartnell was cutting across the ice on a rush while the Blackhawks' top defenseman, Duncan Keith, was backing up. Keith tripped over Hartnell's skate (in Chicago, they might go with the construction "was tripped"), setting up the Briere goal that gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead - incredible, in that the shots were 21-9 in favor of Chicago.
Hartnell continued to pinball his way around the ice, hitting and hustling, even as his teammates lost focus again. They threw away their lead on a four-on-four goal that basically amounted to heavy-legged Carter being slow to backcheck.
Soon after that, the shots were 25-10 and TV cut to footage of the white-gloved Stanley Cup attendant polishing the big trophy. If any of the Flyers were watching a monitor, it had to evoke the executioner sharpening his blade. A deflected point shot, lofted by Game 4 goat Niklas Hjalmarsson, gave the visitors a 3-2 lead with 2:17 left in the second.
But No. 19 wasn't finished. With just 3:59 left in regulation, Leino's backhand pass from behind the goal line caromed off Chicago's Brent Seabrook in the slot, then off Marian Hossa, to Hartnell, lurking to the left of the slot. A flick, as Hartnell was slammed backward, and it was 3-3, Hartnell looking straight up at the Wachovia Center roof as he raised his arms in celebration of his eighth goal in 23 postseason games, lying flat on his back at the edge of the crease.
"I think it's really good for Scott to finish as strong as he did through the playoffs," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said afterward. "His regular season [14 goals, 155 penalty minutes] was a tough year for him, I think, on and off the ice. Everything seemed to kind of be put behind him [in the postseason]. He focused just on hockey."
Briere said Hartnell "came on strong when we needed him."
"We had some injuries, losing Simon and Jeff, and we needed guys to step up to replace them . . . When the pressure built up, and we needed his presence, he was there, when it mattered most."
Alas, Hartnell can't play goal, and that was where the Flyers ultimately faltered. They had dominated play since the tying score, finally, but then Kane skated in from the left side, checked by Kimmo Timonen, and from 10 feet or so away, at a flat angle, flicked a shot to the far side that Leighton, hunched back into his net, anticipating a pass instead of squaring to the shooter, apparently didn't see, until it was in.
Leighton looked down, pressed his legs together like he thought the puck might be between his pads. As Leighton searched in vain, the Blackhawks started celebrating.
"They had two guys celebrating and everybody [else] looking around to see where the puck is," Hartnell said. "It was a little awkward, anyway."
But he and his line played so well.