AFTER ROLLING OUT of bed on Tuesday morning, Peter Luukko pinched himself.
Even then, after winning the Eastern Conference, it was hard for him to believe that the Flyers - whom he oversees as the COO of Comcast-Spectacor - the same team that was 29th in the NHL at one point this season, will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the 94th Stanley Cup finals.
"When I wake up, I think it is all a big dream," Luukko said. "If you look at this year, it came down to a shootout against a goalie in [New York's] Henrik Lundqvist who's been fantastic in shootouts his whole career.
"I think we certainly had doubts that we would get in, but we knew that we had the talent to be a good team."
From the injuries of goalies Ray Emery, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher and star forwards Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter, to the firing of coach John Stevens and the hiring of Peter Laviolette, it has been a roller-coaster ride to the finals - and that's an understatement.
Before living in Philadelphia, Luukko managed the Los Angeles Coliseum and Sports Arena for Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. He knows a Hollywood movie when he sees one. He said this Flyers season wouldn't cut it.
"I think if you wrote this up in a script and sent it to Hollywood, they'd probably send it back and say it's cheesy and too hard to believe," Luukko said. "That's the amazing thing. This team has done the impossible so many times."
Luukko said he could see flashes of brilliance during the season, but injuries and inconsistent play prohibited the team from stringing together enough wins to really make a move in the standings.
"We're finally healthy now," Luukko said. "I think it was just a question of whether we could pull it all together in time. We played well for a stretch of time and then Michael [Leighton] went down with an injury and that kind of stalled us for a while.
"You could see that once they picked up Peter Laviolette's system and were playing with it while reacting instead of playing with it while learning it, they could be a very good team."
Luukko said Paul Holmgren's decision to fire Stevens in December may have been the toughest move Holmgren has had to make as a general manager.
"John was one of us," Luukko said. "He was drafted here, played for the Phantoms and Flyers, coached the Phantoms and Flyers as an assistant and head coach. But Paul thought we needed another voice. Even now, it's fun and exciting, but you miss John. On the other hand, Peter has picked up the ball and run with it.
"I think Paul Holmgren did an outstanding job with this team. Yes, he made the big move to bring in a No. 1 defenseman in Chris Pronger, but he also made a lot of small moves along the way: Blair Betts, Ian Laperriere, Ville Leino. I think that's what makes hockey great. We have the solid No. 1 defenseman but role players, penalty killers and checkers have just as big of an impact."
It is the obvious choice, but Luukko said he thinks the turning point this season was the Flyers' win over New York in the shootout on the final day of the regular season.
"In the New York game, they really did the impossible," Luukko said. "After that, you could see the confidence level this team had. I think they thought, 'Now we're here, we might as well make the best of it.' They just needed to catch the break."
Despite the Flyers' confidence level in the playoffs, even Luukko wasn't initially convinced when they were down three-games-to-none against the Bruins.
"Sometimes you get the feeling that they're saying the right things, but you don't always know if they're thinking the right things," Luukko said. "But the one thing I liked, they never had a deer-in-the-headlights look about them - they believed they were close.
"But I'd like to be able to sit here and say I thought they were going to win when down three goals in Game 7. I can't. But once they scored the first goal, I thought they could start to tilt the ice. When Danny Briere scored the second goal, it put Boston back on their heels."
Now, the Flyers are flying. They have provided a financial windfall for Comcast-Spectacor's coffers, with an approximate $10 to 12 million in revenue per round. It will be even more for the Cup finals - with the face value of lower-level tickets costing $450.
"I think interest was high in 2008 when we played Pittsburgh in the conference finals," Luukko said. "But I think the market is fired up, it's at a whole new level. I've seen more flags and more people in orange than I can remember. It's amazing to see."
Luukko still has his playoff beard, almost 6 weeks after he started growing it for charity with the rest of the team executives. It's lasted a little longer than expected.
"I've wanted my beard to be like the guys in ZZ Top," Luukko said. "It's not quite there. Everybody has their own unique routine, whether it's orange ties or a lucky suit. Mr. Snider has even worn these orange socks.
"But I think we have as good a chance as anyone against Chicago. I think it could be one of the best finals ever, and I really believe that."