CHICAGO - Now our faith gets tested.
For many really, it will be the first time.
Be honest. We've prepared for this for nearly 2 months now, ever since that game against the Rangers ended in an overtime tie, ever since you calculated the odds of your team beating Henrik Lund-qvist in a shootout. No way we said then, and we said it again when they lost the first two games in Boston, even before it seemed a foregone conclusion when they lost, 4-1, in Game 3 at home.
There was a debate even over whether it was a good season, whether that big shootout win over New York and a five-game beat-down of New Jersey was enough salve for a season pockmarked with injuries, the firing of a coach, and internal strife that would shock even the producers of "Jersey Shore."
And then they won a game in Boston, in overtime.
Well, they're not quitters we said.
Then they won another one. We reveled in the discomfort that caused up north. They tied it and you didn't know what to think, at least until they fell behind by three goals in the first period of Game 7, and we all said - again - well, that's that.
So now what? Is destiny still their date after last night's 7-4 loss to the Blackhawks again shrunk their margin of error to zero? Was that lopsided first period indicative of the more talented team finally asserting itself, or was it simply just another twist to the script?
Another Flyers goalie change? Are you kidding me?
Pronger, their rock, on the ice for six of Chicago's seven goals?
Who's writing this script, Wes Craven?
"One thing I've learned about the playoffs is that one game is one game," said a sullen Peter Laviolette afterwards. "This is just one page of the story. Tonight, it was their page."
The Flyers lost this game early, swamped from the opening faceoff, the momentum of two home victories dissipated in a matter of minutes. Michael Leighton stopped the first seven shots he faced, two or three brilliantly.
"I thought that was the worst of it," said Laviolette, but then came those bounces that Chicago has spoken of so often, the ones created when you skate like hell on the forecheck.
Amid a power play, a referee's skate redirected a puck one way, Pronger's skate caught just enough of a shot to fool the Flyers goaltender, and the Blackhawks had the first goal.
Dave Bolland made it 2-0 a few minutes later, after Leighton inexplicably came off the post as a puck banked off the boards behind him. Kris Versteeg made it 3-0 less than 3 minutes after that, crossing through the Flyers zone as Matt Carle sagged back into his own zone the way we had seen defensemen do against the Hawks in their previous series.
Chicago outshot the Flyers, 13-7, in the first period and it didn't come close to reflecting the proportion in which they were outplayed.
Which gets back to this question of faith.
Philadelphia was the poised team of veterans. Chicago was the fragile young team. This was supposed to be the game in which that became crystal clear, the game that backed up Laviolette's assertion that his team played well even amid losses here, particularly in Game 2. The Flyers spoke of that third period as a springboard to winning the two games that followed. They had not lost in any series from Game 4 on. They were in the Blackhawks' heads.
They get stronger as the series goes on, as the periods do, too.
And, well? Yada yada yada.
The talk afterwards was of nerves. "Over-ready," Ville Leino said.
"I guess if it was nerves it was nerves," Laviolette said. "We got outworked pretty good that period."
Chicago shuffled their lines as expected. Dustin Byfuglien, the 257-pound 25-year-old whose cranium was supposed to be most infiltrated, had a goal and two assists. A minus-5 Pronger logged 28 minutes, 37 seconds. Kimmo Timonen was on the ice for 27:03.
With 7 minutes and 21 second left last night, the Flyers on a power play and down by a manageable two goals, an exhausted Timonen nudged a puck back toward Brian Boucher, who replaced Michael Leighton after the first period.
Surprised at first, Boucher covered the puck, much to the delight of 22,305 in attendance. It was the last wow out of our mouths for the night, and it left the feeling that this team might have used up all its magic dust, out of grit, out of bullets.
But we've all had that feeling before. And we've all seen what happened next.
"We haven't done anything easy in the postseason," Timonen said.
Two pages left to this story? Or one?
And do you believe in these guys today as much as you did yesterday?