WHILE YOU WERE dancing in the streets Monday night, Paul Holmgren went home and watched the final episode of "24."

If you've seen the show, you know it is 60 minutes of intensity, of fortunate twists and unfortunate ones, of high-risk moves working out or literally blowing up on you and/or your closest associates.

It figures that this is how Homer would choose to come down from his well-deserved high of reaching his first Stanley Cup finals as Flyers general manager. Figures that watching Jack Bauer - a guy who fails to save the world as often as he saves it - would be his way of relaxing.

Because Homer is that guy. Sure, he saved our world, gave us our first Stanley Cup finals since 1997. But raise your hand if you thought he was the enemy just a few months back.

Or at least one of those world leaders with faulty plans and balky results.

"You know something? You've got to give Paul Holmgren a lot of credit for picking the guys he's picked up," Flyers chairman Ed Snider said Monday night. "For getting the coaches, too. Paul Holmgren has done an outstanding job for us this year. He really has."

When Holmgren fired John Stevens back in December, he and Sixers GM Ed Stefanski would have been in competition for the unofficial title of most unpopular GM. There was even a poll that asked who would be the first one fired. Stefanski had Elton Brand hanging from his neck, a coach who had lost his players, and a roster that had many of the NBA's pundits scratching their heads.

Holmgren had made a slew of deals that had people scratching their heads - or giving away their tickets. Heroes from their surprise run to the conference finals in 2008 had been sent elsewhere for reasons of finance and grit. Scottie Upshall. R.J. Umberger. Mike Knuble. In their place came guys like Dan Carcillo, whom fans didn't know what to make of - or whether to root for.

The team sputtered to end last season, sputtered at the start this season despite significant summertime improvements. Holmgren had to fire Stevens, his friend, replacing him with a coach who had been out of work for a year.

But Holmgren's knowledge of both the league and the hinterlands has been real obvious this postseason, via the team he constructed that Danny Briere so rightly predicted, "was built for the playoffs." Claude Giroux has become a postseason star, James van Riemsdyk looks like a potential one, Michael Leighton and Lukas Krajicek are waiver-wire gifts that keep on giving.

It's hard to believe now, but Ville Leino started this postseason as a healthy scratch. Hard to believe that Leighton's story of perserverance was made possible by the shootout saves of Brian Boucher and by his first-round play against the Devils.

Hard to believe that both men were cheap pickups in case something happened to their million-dollar goalie, Ray Emery.

Carcillo became a valuable role player following the gritty example of Ian Laperriere, whose body has become the road map for how to get this far, and maybe to get your name on a Stanley Cup.

Players who once looked so overpaid no longer do. Is Chris Pronger worth the money? Briere? Even Scott Hartnell's long-term deal, so roundly criticized for most of his underachieving season, isn't as offensive anymore, is it?

It's a little reminiscent of Pat Gillick's start with the Phillies. Adam Eaton, anyone? Freddy Garcia?

But Gillick kept firing bullets, kept trying to save our world, and pretty soon the list sounded a lot better, the way Holmgren's does now. It is probably a stretch to call Leino the Flyers' version of Jayson Werth or Shane Victorino, but the circumstances do have similarities.

They got him for nothing.

"I think our staff had a good handle on Ville," Holmgren said, but the real truth is that he had a good handle on Ville.

"I had the opportunity to see him play in Finland before he came over here," Holmgren said. "We kind of took a flier on him.

"No pun intended."

Yeah, right. Holmgren would like you to believe that much of this was good fortune, that he could not have predicted what Laperriere would have meant to both the team and to Carcillo, who is trying to model his game after the gritty penalty killer. He would like you to believe he feels no extra gratification that the team he built, the one that was a penalty shot away from completing one of the most unfulfilling seasons in Flyers history, is now four victories away from making history.

"You're rewriting your own script," he was told yesterday.

"That's great, I guess," he said. "But the group of guys are the most important thing right now. The fact that we're one of the two teams that has a shot to win it? That feels good. And I can't wait until Saturday."

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