It is a question that may not get answered, if ever, until after this Flyers playoff run is over.

Did they show True Grit by walking through true grit Saturday in Montreal, or are they just sandbagging us on the subject of the Great Skate Debate?

"I didn't comment on it [Saturday] night," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said Sunday, in the very definition of deadpan. "I have no comments. I'm not sure exactly what it is you're talking about."

Enter Sandman.

If someone booby-trapped the Flyers' path to the ice with sand or pellets or rock salt or whatever, clearly this person was not the sharpest blade in the skate rack. The point of cheating - this would be more egregious than Bill Belichick's camcorder or Mick Billmeyer's binoculars - is to give yourself an edge, not take away the other team's edges. And, most important, the point is not to give a very motivated team even more reason to want to kick your tail.

Bottom line: If the Canadiens, or some sinister saboteurs operating in their interest (Habs or Sabs!), cheated in Game 4, and the Flyers still shut them out for the third time in the Eastern Conference finals, what hope do they have playing on a level rink tonight?

Something was certainly rotten in the province of Quebec. Too many Flyers had too many problems with their skate blades for this to be nothing. And yet it is hard to get a handle on exactly what transpired for a simple but fascinating reason. The Flyers have swept this aside like so many, well, grains of sand. In this case, grains of truth are even smaller.

So why would an organization that historically sees conspiracies in every offsides call suddenly refuse to draw a line in the unidentified pellets in the middle of its biggest playoff series in 13 years?

This is a theory, but it fits the facts as we know them: The Flyers, with Laviolette setting the tone, don't want this episode to create even the slightest distraction from the task at hand. They don't want to give the Canadiens (or any mysterious person) the satisfaction of thinking they had the slightest effect on the Flyers, especially in case they have to play one more game in the Bell Centre.

Of course, it helps quite a bit that the Flyers didn't lose Game 4. If they were coming back to Philadelphia with the series tied at two games each, they might have demanded an investigation by the Mounties. They always get their sandman.

Some coaches manage by creating a crisis to motivate their players. They'll drum up controversy or post inflammatory quotes or play the no-one-believed-in-us card at every opportunity.

Laviolette, who has done a dazzling job in this postseason, seems to prefer the other way around. This team is on the brink of the Sandy Cup Finals because it has remained steady and calm, even in the face of devastating injuries and one historically daunting series deficit. A team that would gnash its remaining teeth about something that could well have been an accident - sloppy margarita making? - is not a team that could have overcome 0-3 to Boston.

"You know what?" sandy-haired defenseman Chris Pronger said. "It's a big deal how the coach handles things. I think he's done an excellent job of keeping us focused and understanding: Just worry about that next game. Don't worry about the stakes, don't worry about what's coming next. It's worrying about that next game. A lot of our meetings are really just focused on the game at hand."

It is this methodical approach that makes the Flyers so unlikely to fall into the same sand trap as Washington and Pittsburgh - higher seeds who allowed the Canadiens to come back and steal the series.

"That's definitely something we've talked [about] amongst ourselves," Danny Briere said. "We realize that it's not going to be easy. Montreal's not a team that has quit in the past, and they're not going to quit now. So we'll have to play one of our best games again to clinch."

"We've obviously got to look at Game 5 as a huge test for us," Pronger said. "Their backs have been against the wall a few times in these playoffs and they've always come out and played extremely well. We need to understand that and stay focused."

The Canadiens' earlier comebacks can be looked at two ways. They've proven they can do it, but they've also expended so much energy, it has to be daunting to be in this position again. How many times can you roll the boulder up the mountain?

The Flyers can make that question moot. If they play the way they did in Game 4, it probably doesn't matter what the Canadiens do. The Flyers are strong enough to make sure this is no day at the beach.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.