Except for Gary Bettman, nobody handed the Stanley Cup to the Blackhawks. To the immense credit of the Flyers, Chicago's first championship in 49 years was hard-earned.

In time, the Flyers will take solace in the quality of their effort, their tenacity, their persistence despite grim injuries and daunting deficits. They will be able to look back on this series with pride.

In the moment, though, as Jonathan Toews lifted the Stanley Cup in celebration, the pain and disappointment were in direct proportion to the heart and soul invested in the attempt to win their own franchise's first title in 35 years. To have it end so suddenly, so brutally in overtime, made the sting that much sharper.

Sudden death never sounded so chilling.

As these things usually go, the cracks and crevices that develop over the playoffs are what finally give out and bring dreams crumbling down.

Michael Leighton, who played such a remarkable role in getting the Flyers this far, failed again to secure the near post. Patrick Kane, who was trapped in a terrible scoring funk for the first half of the series, sped in from Leighton's right and fired an odd-angled shot right through the improbable goaltender.

Just like that, it was over. The Flyers' wild ride from claiming the last playoff berth in the last regular-season game to the threshold of a title was finished.

They gave the Blackhawks all they could handle, twice erasing leads in this elimination game.

By late in the third period, the Stanley Cup was out of its case, resting on the black-clothed cart that would carry it out to the ice on a red carpet.

The Flyers, their supply of grit running down with each tick of the clock, kept making desperate rushes toward the net. Simon Gagne fired at Antti Niemi. Save. Jeff Carter had an open net, but whipped the puck into the sprawling Niemi's shoulder. Claude Giroux tried to lift one in short-side. No good.

This incredible postseason story had one more improbable chapter waiting to be written. Ville Leino, completing his own journey from healthy scratch to hero, glided down the right side with the puck. He flicked it across the slot in the general direction of Scott Hartnell.

Defenseman Brent Seabrook got his stick down, sending the puck directly into the right leg of teammate Marian Hossa. It caromed off Hossa and found Hartnell's stick. Hartnell was immediately checked to the ice by Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. Too late.

Hartnell lay flat on his back in the crease as the roar of the crowd washed over him.

3-3. Overtime.

So it came down to sudden death or new life. One goal would give the Blackhawks their first championship since 1961, or it would give the Flyers a chance to claim their first since 1975.

Sudden death or new life.

Giroux, the overtime hero of Game 4, had a chance right in front of Niemi. The Flyers seemed to have that late-game edge they had managed to develop during each of these wild Finals games.

But Kane, in a blink, turned the tide for good. He blew past defenseman Kimmo Timonen and slid a shot under Leighton's stick. The goalie knelt in silent disbelief.

The shame of it is, Leighton was the only reason the Flyers were in the game after two periods. The Blackhawks hit the ice with fearsome intensity. For all their talk about delivering their best game of the season, the Flyers were overrun, trapped in their own zone, reliant on their twice-benched goaltender to withstand the onslaught.

Leighton did just that. Chicago peppered him with 17 shots in that first period, including a couple of stretches where pressure was maintained for minutes at a time. Only one shot got through. It was another of those set plays the Blackhawks run on their power play: Kane to Toews to Dustin Byfuglien parked in front of the net.

As one-sided as the period was, the Flyers got out of it even, thanks to a power-play goal by Scott Hartnell.

As it turned out, youth and speed trumped experience and grit. In Game 6, as in Game 5, the Flyers looked older and slower. Fatigue showed itself in careless turnovers and uncharacteristically sloppy play. Pucks that would have been cleared during penalty kills barely made it to the blue line. Chicago overcame a 2-1 Flyers lead, taking a 3-2 lead into the final period.

All along, it was clear the Flyers were going to have to overcome the skilled Blackhawks with heart and effort. But the 'Hawks showed their own heart wasn't lacking in this series.

They earned this championship, make no mistake.

The Flyers, to their credit and their pain, made sure of that.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844