Let's say this right at the top. If the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, it will be because they were a good enough team and true enough champion to fend off the most relentless band of hockey warriors this sport has seen in a long, long time.

The champagne will taste all the sweeter because the Blackhawks will have earned that Cup the hard way.

That said, here's why the Flyers look and feel like a team on the verge of winning its first championship in 35 years. Here's why, as the puck drops Sunday night on Game 5 in Chicago, the Flyers deserve the absolute faith and respect of their fans.

Here's why: Every step of this long, long road, the Flyers have gotten better and stronger and more fiercely determined. The later it gets - in games, in series, in the tournament - the more prepared they are to meet the rising challenge.

In four series now, the Flyers' record in Games 1 through 3 is 5-7.

In Games 4 and beyond: 9-0, and counting.

Two reasons stand up and scream for attention: the sublime coaching job of Peter Laviolette, and the particular character of this team as personified by enigmatic captain Mike Richards, larger-than-life defenseman Chris Pronger, and Michael Leighton, the goalie-from-nowhere.

Laviolette is hitting on both coaching cylinders right now. He and his staff - don't underestimate the job done by Craig Berube, Joe Mullen, Kevin McCarthy, and the Goalie Whisperer, Jeff Reese - have bested four other staffs on the X-and-O, game-planning aspect.

Maybe it's presumptuous to count Chicago here, but the Flyers are the first team to force Joel Quenneville to break up his top line, and the first to beat the Hawks twice in a row.

And Laviolette, who by all accounts gives a butt-kicking inspirational talk, is pushing every button as a motivator and leader.

"I think we've done a better job of adapting or adjusting," said Pronger, who has won one Cup and played in the Finals three times.

Pronger is very much a part of that, practicing on ice what Laviolette preaches in the locker room. The big defenseman creates a sense of calm, of all-is-well, of stay-the-course, during those moments in each game when his less experienced teammates are feeling at-sea and looking for a beacon.

"He brings a lot of confidence to our team, a lot of calmness," Danny Briere said. "He's been there."

But this is about more than a coach's savvy or a veteran's leadership, more than a captain living up to his C and a goaltender proving the hockey world wrong. It's about an entire team finding itself at precisely the right time and answering each bell that is rung.

And that's why the Flyers suddenly, shockingly look as if they're about to win this whole thing.

Here is the challenge: win a game in Chicago, preferably tonight. Win one more game at home, where they are 9-1 in the postseason and where their fans - like Phillies fans in 2008 - bring energy to the home team while applying pressure to the visitors.

Is it doable? Consider:

The Flyers lost one game in New Jersey, then came back and won Game 5 there to bring a swift end to their first-round series.

The Flyers lost their first two games in Boston, then came back and won two incredibly high-pressure games in TD Garden.

The Flyers were crushed in Game 3 in Montreal, 5-1. They came back and cruised to a 3-0 win in Game 4, then closed out the series at home.

So there's something in the idea that this team learns from its experiences and adapts. The Flyers were in both games at the United Center and could have won either. Now they go back with a little more knowledge, a lot more composure.

"If we look back at the first two games we were there, they're going to be energized by the crowd," Simon Gagne said. "We didn't have the start we wanted over there. We cannot wait for the last 20 minutes of the game to start playing, using our forecheck and putting pucks on the net. We have to start right at the first minute of the game. That's what we're going to try to do."

Briere showered ice chips on the idea that momentum favors either team from one game to the next.

"During a game, there's momentum swings," Briere said. "But from game to game, it doesn't matter. You have to start all over again. We have to come back with a strong effort.

"Obviously, they're going to be pumped up to be in their building for Game 5. We'll have to focus on the first 10 minutes, getting through that. We have to be ready to play."

Their history says they will. Their history says that history is within their grasp.

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