SO, WHEN it is over, Danny Briere stands there and says, "I remember driving to the rink today and just having a good feeling, a feeling that we were going to do whatever it took."
It is so corny - good feelings, driving under the influence of premonitions, winning in overtime to extend the fairy tale. But Briere stands there and says it, and most of the people standing around him just nod. At this point,
after everything, corny is starting to seem normal.
What else is there to say? Facing virtual elimination in the Stanley Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks, forced to overtime with everything but their mathematical lives hanging on the result, the Flyers won again, 4-3. That it was Claude
Giroux who got the game-winner, at 5:59 of overtime, on a redirection of a Matt Carle pass, is a fact for posterity.
But that this keeps happening, this absurd assault on the laws of probability, is the story.
No team in the annals of North American professional sports - no team, not one, not ever - has won a playoff series after losing the first three games, won another playoff series after losing the first two games, and ended up winning the championship in the same season.
That is what the Flyers are trying to do. Down, 0-3, to Boston in the second round of the playoffs, they won. Down, 0-2, to Chicago in the final, they are breathing. As Briere said, "We're still far away from our goal, but this is a step in the right direction."
But as a tense and taut 3-3 game wound down, through the rest of regulation and then into overtime, you wondered. On the bench, though, Briere said he had this feeling. (I know, I know.) He scored the Flyers' first goal of the game, his 11th of the postseason, and it is a fact that Briere is now nudging himself into the Conn Smythe Trophy conversation.
But this was later, after the Flyers had outshot the Blackhawks by 15-4 in the third period, with only goaltender Antti Niemi between the Flyers and their first win of the series.
Anyway, Briere said he was thinking.
"Looking at our third period, we felt that we created so much that it was just a matter of time," he said. "I think they had one good shift early in overtime and after that, we were right there, banging at the doorstep.
"Even when that goal got called back, it was like, 'OK, it's just a matter of time. We've got to keep shooting pucks and good things are going to happen.' Finally, it did."
Oh, yes - the goal that was called back. Had the Flyers lost, it would have been talked about forever - even though referee Bill McCreary correctly ruled that Simon Gagne's shot off the post never crossed the goal line before the puck was covered up, a ruling confirmed by replay.
It was just that the puck slithered along the line, so achingly close. It seemed to symbolize so much of what this Flyers postseason has been about, inch by tantalizing inch along the line. When it stayed out, you could not help but wonder. But then, less than a minute later, Giroux ended it. It was happening, again.
They dig holes in series. They dig holes in games. Down, down, it hasn't seemed to matter. Truth be told, the Flyers dig and dig and kind of seem to like it underground. While the rest of us wait and watch and look for signs that the canary's breath is labored, they just keep digging out.
When Ville Leino scored the
tying goal in the third period, you thought the roof would blow off the Wachovia Center, quickly answering a goal that Chicago's Patrick Kane had scored on a breakaway. The building was so deflated at 2:50 of the third period and so enthused again at 3:10.
As Briere said, "When he scored so quickly, sitting on the bench, it was like, 'This was meant to happen.' "
(I know, I know.) *
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