IN THE END, the ice was littered with the sticks and gloves of the celebrating Chicago Blackhawks, but littered also with the Flyers' dreams. They were entitled to those dreams, too. They had earned them through 8 thrilling weeks of hell. But there they were, those dreams, ready to be swept up with the trash.

And Chris Pronger said, "I don't think this will set in for a while."

Thirty-five years. It is hard to believe sometimes that it has been that long since the Flyers hoisted the Stanley Cup. They just pushed us all to the brink with a playoff run that none of us will soon forget. It was thrilling, startling, indelible. But it is over, two games short of the goal.

Outplayed for much of the night but not outefforted - not last night, not for the last 2 months - the Flyers' dream run ended with a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. After reaching heights that no one predicted, maybe not even them, maybe not even in their hearts, the ending was so shockingly sudden.

And Scott Hartnell said, "It was almost a storybook ending to get us to Game 7. But it wasn't meant to be."

They had survived the shootout in the last game of the regular season against the Rangers, then the 3-0 deficit against the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs and the 3-0 deficit in Game 7. They had fallen behind in the finals by losing the first two games in Chicago, and they were trailing by a goal as the third period wound down last night.

But Hartnell tied it at 16:01 of the third period with his second goal of the game, and the Wachovia Center exploded one more time after one more comeback from what seemed like inevitable defeat. Then Patrick Kane won it for the Blackhawks at 4:06 of overtime on a weird goal, perfect in a way, as everyone was stuck for a few seconds of suspended animation before it was determined that the puck indeed got through Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton and stuck in the padding of the net.

It was as if no one wanted to believe it was over.

And coach Peter Laviolette said, "I'm proud of these guys for giving themselves an opportunity to compete for the Cup. It's going to sting for a while. It hurts right now. But they never quit."

It was, in the end, a fractured fairy tale. The final goal was an awful piece of bad luck, one that Leighton will have to live with forever. Kane's shot was from a ridiculous angle, almost from the goal line, and it got beneath Leighton's stick and through his legs. It was so stunning.

But as Leighton himself said, "It's usually not a great goal. It's usually a fluke, stupid kind of goal. And that's what happened."

Thirty-five years. Few will recall that it was Don Earle with the television call when the Flyers won their last Stanley Cup. Everyone remembers the year before, when Gene Hart said, his voice soaring, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Flyers are going to win the Stanley Cup!" Earle, though, had no such operatic aspirations.

And so, he said:

"Faceoff, won, it's all over! The Flyers have won their second in a row! The Flyers have won their second consecutive Stanley Cup, and the whole Flyers bench is on the ice. I'll tell you, they fought from adversity when they had to, and they won the big ones when they had to, and Bernie Parent was big tonight when he had to."

It was May 27, 1975. No one then could have predicted how the voice would echo over the years and the decades and the empty canyons of a franchise's memory.

Since then, all of this has happened: Leon Stickle. The jersey on Billy Penn. The "choking situation." J.J. Daigneault. Ron Hextall and the Conn Smythe. Dave Poulin's two-man shorthanded goal against Quebec. Ed Hospodar and the pregame brawl in Montreal.

Now, this year has happened. It cannot help but be remembered fondly. That is a certainty - even as the details of the final game fade along with the sounds of one final "Let's go, Flyers" cheer that rose and then fell before someone else received the Cup.

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