MIKE RICHARDS did not hesitate.
The Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded to the Eastern Conference champion, was barely on the table for 30 seconds.
After conferring with his teammates for a few minutes, Richards skated over, grabbed the trophy and hoisted it over his head as 19,986 at the Wachovia Center roared with approval.
Richards, after all, was a big reason why the Flyers extinguished the flame of another team last night - this time, the Montreal Canadiens - with a nail-biting, 4-2 win to take the series in five games.
The Flyers will face the Western Conference champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals beginning Saturday.
To hockey purists, Richards' jaw-dropping touching of the trophy was almost irreverent - akin to waving the middle finger at any one of baseball's wacky superstitions. For decades, the captains of the conference-winning teams have refused to touch the Prince of Wales or Clarence Campbell trophies for fear of jinxing their chances in the Stanley Cup finals.
It was only natural that Richards, the captain of the team that has defied all odds - wearing the jersey of the franchise that defied all rules on its way to the first Stanley Cup won by an expansion team in 1974 - would shun tradition.
"We had a little debate about it," Richards admitted. "I actually thought about it [Sunday] night a little bit. My first instinct was to grab it.
"Obviously, it took a lot for us to get here. And it's obviously not the trophy we want. But we haven't done anything conventional all year, especially in these playoffs. We might as well go against the grain one more time."
After failing to do so in 2008, Sidney Crosby grabbed the trophy last season - and the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Richards' celebration, which was brief as he quickly skated off the ice with the trophy instead of handing it to teammates, was a stark contrast to Chicago's Jonathan Toews on Sunday afternoon. To Toews, the Campbell Trophy was almost radioactive; he simply smiled and posed for a picture with it before skating off.
The Flyers have advanced to the Stanley Cup finals five times since last capturing the Cup in 1975. Combined with the Chicago, which last won the Cup in 1961, the Flyers and Blackhawks have played in the finals a total of 10 times. Both teams failed each time. That will change this year.
"It's a great story," Claude Giroux said. "You could probably make a movie out of this. It's pretty interesting, and, like I said, we had a lot of injuries, a lot of goalie injuries - you know, we stuck in there. One point of the season, we were 14th, I think, in our conference, but we stayed in there and battled back and it's paying off right now.
"You know what, it doesn't make a difference if we pick it up or not. I think it's the way we are going to show up."
Last night, the Flyers didn't show up in the first minute.
Brian Gionta scored just 59 seconds into the game, sending a collective gasp through the Wachovia Center before fans had even settled into their seats.
Faced with a flash of fear about the prospect of heading back to Montreal for a Game 6, the Flyers didn't flinch.
Before last night, the Canadiens were a perfect five-for-five in elimination games in the playoffs.
But the Flyers wouldn't let those thoughts creep into their heads.
"It was pretty quick in the game, so I don't think we had any time to think about doubts," Chris Pronger said. "There were still 59 minutes to play, so we had plenty of time to come back from a 1-0 deficit. Everybody just kind of rallied and stayed with it."
It wasn't surprising, considering the fact that the Flyers haven't shuddered at any deficit during this grueling tournament.
"There are so many stories," Flyers chairman Ed Snider said. "This may be one of the most exciting teams we've ever had, and that includes the big ones. This was a team that gets in the playoffs in a shootout.
"It's a series of things that never happened before and may never happen again. But we're having a helluva lot of fun."
Richards scored just 3:26 after Gionta's goal, erasing the Canadiens' lead and capping off what may have been one of the most action-packed 45 seconds in Flyers' playoff history.
With Kimmo Timonen in the penalty box, Richards and Braydon Coburn teamed up for two bone-crushing hits on Canadiens and Coburn even got a shot on a three-on-two shorthanded break.
But Giroux' innocent flip out of the Flyers' zone, which nearly stopped dead after bouncing at center ice, sent Richards on a crash course with Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who flew out of his crease in an attempt to snatch the puck away.
Richards and Halak ran into each other just inside the Canadiens' blue line, sending Richards skidding backward toward Montreal's now empty net.
Magically, the puck squirted through Halak, possibly coaxed by Richards' extended stick. And Richards needed to simply turn around, avoid Halak's flying stick and jam it into the net.
Montreal had all the jump, all of the momentum and all of the desire of a team trying to claw back into a series heading into the second period. It didn't matter.
Just 3 minutes in, Matt Carle found Arron Asham alone in front. Asham shifted the puck from his forehand, to backhand and back to his forehand in the blink of an eye and roasted Halak with a top-shelf shot to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead.
"It's my only move I know, so it's either do or die with that one," said Asham of his third playoff goal. "Everyone's dreamed of doing this their whole life and to get the opportunity to do it this year is great. It's a lot of hard work, and we're not done yet. It's still kind of, you know, can't believe it right now."
It took just 84 seconds for the Flyers to fool Halak again.
Jeff Carter scored his first goal since missing 13 games, the recipient of a tic-tac-toe passing play between Richards and Timonen behind the net.
Carter's goal, just 4:31 into the second period, gave the Flyers a two-goal edge.
"This is what we've worked for," Carter said. "It's great. You know, we've been here for 5 years now. Lot of ups and downs. It's been a long year. A lot of things have happened. Like you said, injuries, coaching changes, all of the above; I think you really learn from those.
"We have a group of guys in that room that no matter what happens, they never give up. It's a pretty amazing thing to be a part of."
Scott Gomez scored for Montreal 6:53 into the third period when he blasted a P.K. Subban rebound over Leighton's right shoulder, cutting the Flyers' lead in half.
And then it got really interesting.
Pronger high-sticked Subban in the face and drew blood, leaving the Flyers to kill a 4-minute, double-minor penalty without their top defenseman.
But the Flyers worked their way out of it, as they have all season.
They killed off the first 2 minutes and then Glen Metropolit killed the rest.
Metropolit tripped Ian Laperriere below the Flyers' goal line and negated the final 1:23 of Montreal's possible game-changing power play.
Last night, they endured a long penalty at a key juncture of a close game, with the Stanley Cup finals on the line. They have endured a coaching casualty, countless injuries and a historic playoff deficit.
Now, they will have at least four more games to endure - and enjoy. They are now four wins away from making history in a whole different way.