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Phil Sheridan: Next comes the toughest task

Destiny doesn't announce itself with a fanfare of trumpets. It slips in quietly, and reveals itself only over time. It took one week for these Flyers to go from brink of elimination to brink of history, a week for destiny to enter the conversation.

Destiny doesn't announce itself with a fanfare of trumpets. It slips in quietly, and reveals itself only over time.

It took one week for these Flyers to go from brink of elimination to brink of history, a week for destiny to enter the conversation.

Last Thursday, the Flyers were waking up after losing Game 3 at home. They were down, three games to none, and facing virtually certain elimination. And their reward for pulling a comeback achieved just three times in hockey, hoops, and baseball history combined? They likely would be an injury-ravaged team facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

This Thursday, the Flyers wake up needing to win a single hockey game to host the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals. They have done the hard part, scratching their way back to tie this series even as their injury list has grown with every game. In the last two elimination games, they have outscored the Boston Bruins, 6-1.

Now comes Game 7. Friday night. In Boston. Winner goes to the Final Four.

"Now both teams have their backs against the wall," Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said. "It's a dangerous position to be in, both for us and them. They're going to come out with everything they've got. It's do or die for them now in Game 7 in their building."

It takes a mentally tough team to fight back as these Flyers have. And it takes an equal and opposite mental capitulation by the opponent. The Bruins appear uniquely qualified now to be on the wrong side of this kind of history.

"I'm sure there's lot of pressure on them," Flyers forward Danny Briere said. "The other team might win three games on you, but when they win three games after you're up, three to nothing, I'm sure the pressure is mounting even more."

Whenever the Flyers lose a key player to injury - including their leading goal scorer, best penalty killer and goaltender - they seem to get tougher. As the Bruins have lost key players - Marco Sturm, David Krejci - they just seem to get weaker.

Game 6 was a psychological minefield for the Flyers. As the Bruins showed Monday night, there is a real danger of a team slipping into cruise control on its home ice. The Flyers didn't fall into that trap.

"For us, it was all about the start," captain Mike Richards said. "We wanted to initiate, and not sit back and see what they were going to do. We were ready for this game. We had a sense of calmness, but I think we were a little bit nervous."

Channeling those nerves and remaining focused - that was the Flyers' achievement in this game. They had a goalie, Michael Leighton, making his first playoff start. They had a young center, Claude Giroux, who didn't seem to be at full strength after getting hurt two nights earlier. They lost Blair Betts, their checking center and penalty killer.

And they rallied. They took the attack to the Bruins early. Richards himself set the tone, driving a rebound past Tuukka Rask for a first-period lead.

"We were ready to play tonight," Richards said. "I think [confidence] has grown with the momentum that we've built for ourselves."

"There's no doubt it's grown as you rack up the wins," Briere said.

Make no mistake, the Bruins didn't go quietly. Rask, who looked vulnerable the previous two games, was outstanding. Richards beat him on a no-chance rebound and Briere fired high, the puck caroming in off Rask's sweeping glove. That was it.

And in the second period, especially, the Bruins came in waves at Leighton. But the Flyers played superbly in front of their goalie, blocking shots and clearing rebounds before the Bruins could pounce on them.

"Even though they cycled the puck hard on us, in the second period, especially, we kept them to the outside for the most part," Briere said. "We didn't give them too many point-blank shots. And when we did, Michael was there to make the big stops."

The brink of history is upon them. But that other brink still looms.

"It's nice," said Richards, ever the captain, "but we haven't done anything yet. We fought all the way back to tie it, but we still need that one more win. Obviously, it's a Game 7 - it's going to be tough."

They've come this far. It would be a shame not to finish this.

"We want it, too," Briere said. "Now that we're here, now that we've climbed all the way back in this series, we want it, too. And we have to realize that the last game will be the toughest to leave with."

It was, after all, the toughest game to get to - the destiny game.

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