YEAR 35 SINCE the Flyers' last Stanley Cup championship was one for the ages. Though fans are hurting right now, that pain will dwindle each passing day. The vision of Patrick Kane jumping around like Jim Valvano will give way to sweeter memories such as these 35 things from this playoff run:
1 The playoffs technically began for the Flyers on the final day of the regular season when they had to beat the Rangers to even make the postseason. A preseason Cup favorite, the Flyers won three of their last four to grab the seventh seed and set up a first-round meeting with their nemesis from New Jersey.
2"Hopefully we can do something with our lifeline here and use the excitement and euphoria from this win and from our last little stretch of games here to propel us and do good things here in the playoffs," Chris Pronger said after beating the Rangers in a shootout.
3The run got off to a good start when the Flyers beat the Devils, 2-1, in the series opener. It is somewhat fitting that Pronger and Mike Richards scored the Flyers' goals. They would be the top horses for the next 2 months.
4"We're still the underdogs," Ian Laperriere said. "We had expectations on us at the start of the season and didn't play the way we wanted to play. Hopefully, we'll surprise a lot of people. We believe in our group and in our goalie and we'll see what the future holds for us."
5 Unlikely hero Daniel Carcillo scored the Game 3 winner in overtime as the Flyers retook the series lead and never looked back. Richards did the dirty work that set up Carcillo's rebound goal.
6 Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne each sustained foot injuries in Game 4 against New Jersey. Though the Flyers held a 3-1 series lead, any chance of advancement beyond this series was cloudy at best.
7 The Flyers finished off the Devils by winning, 3-0, in Jersey. Claude Giroux had two goals and the Flyers killed off eight penalties.
8 On one of those kills in the third period, Laperriere was struck in the face with a Paul Martin blast from the point. Blood pooled along the ice and doctors needed 60 to 70 stitches to close the cut. Laperriere was likely lost for the season, if not for his career.
9 Meanwhile, things really fell the Flyers' way in the other Eastern Conference first-round series. Boston, the sixth seed, upset Buffalo, and Montreal, the eighth seed, rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to shock Washington.
10 Getting Boston in the second round turned out to be a lesson on being careful what you wish for, at least early on. Marc Savard, playing his first game in 2 months, scored in overtime as the Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 series lead.
11 "We've been in a tough grind all year trying to get into this thing," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We need to be better and we will be better." It took a few games before the Flyers showed that Laviolette knew what he was talking about.
12 An incident between Savard and Carcillo in Game 2 was one people could really sink their teeth into. "Last time I was bit was in grade school . . . Guys don't bite. Men don't bite," Carcillo said. Countered Savard: "He pummeled on my face. He pulled on my teeth, so I guess that's biting when a guy tries to pull your front teeth out."
13 The Bruins beat the Flyers again in Game 3 and former Flyer Mark Recchi scored late in Game 4 to force overtime. Then something magical began to happen.
14 Simon Gagne, in his first game back since getting hurt against Jersey, scored the game-winner in overtime . . . 3-1 Boston.
1515. The Flyers won Game 5, but lost goaltender Brian Boucher, who injured both knees. Michael Leighton, who had just that day been cleared for backup duties after injuring his ankle in March, came on to complete the shutout. Now up 3-2, the heat clearly shifted to Boston.
16 Richards and Daniel Briere scored the goals and Leighton made 30 saves as the Flyers hung on to win Game 6, 2-1, at the rollicking Wachovia Center. "I'm sure the pressure is mounting even more," Briere said.
17 The final hurdle in the Flyers' bid to become just the third team in NHL history to rebound from an 0-3 series deficit got off to a rough start in Game 7 when Boston scored the first three goals.
18 Shortly after Laviolette called a key timeout, James van Riemsdyk dribbled home a huge goal at the end of the first period. Scott Hartnell and Briere tied it in the second. A fantastic crescendo was in store.
19 Gagne scored the game-winner with 7:08 left in the third after the Bruins were whistled for a sloppy penalty for too many men on the ice. Confusion was caused when Savard seemingly signaled for a line change, but stayed on the ice.
20 An overflow crowd attended the Wachovia Center just to watch Game 7 on the big screen. They were not disappointed. "We believe. Belief in our system, belief in the way we play, belief in ourselves as players," Hartnell said. "Now, there's no telling what we can do."
21 Another upset by Montreal, this time winning a Game 7 in Pittsburgh, allowed the Flyers to host the Eastern Conference finals. The insanity appeared to have no ceiling.
22 It was clear early that the first conference final matchup in NHL history between Nos. 7 and 8 seeds was not going to be too close. The Flyers chased goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who almost singlehandedly carried Montreal for two rounds, and won the opener, 6-0.
23 Midway through the second period, the crazies at the Wachovia Center started that annoying "Ole, Ole" chant Montreal fans are known for. Flyers players chuckled.
24 Leighton became the first Flyers goalie since Bernie Parent to pitch back-to-back playoff shutouts when the Flyers won Game 2, 3-0.
25 Richards was unusually upset and vocal after a 5-1 loss in Game 3. His message got through. "Every time he talks, you know there's something wrong because he doesn't talk very much," Giroux said. "But when he does, you know it's pretty important."
26 The Flyers responded to Richards' challenge by overcoming constant problems with their skates to win Game 4. There was some question as to whether some sand had gotten in the Flyers' bench area and in the corridor from the locker room. Hard sand can be to ice skates what an oil slick is to tires. Nothing sinister was ever proven as the Flyers won, 3-0.
27 The Flyers finished off the Canadiens 2 days later thanks largely to Richards. Daily News columnist Rich Hofmann appropriately described a Richards shorthanded goal as a three-car pileup. The tally came after a collision between Richards, Halak and defenseman Roman Hamrlik. Richards emerged with the puck and a wide-open net. The goal tied the game and gave the Flyers momentum they never would relinquish.
28 The Stanley Cup finals started in Chicago on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend with one of the most unforgettable nights in Philadelphia sports history. The Flyers lost a 6-5 track meet to the Blackhawks while Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game for the Phillies in Florida. The Flyers did not commit a penalty, but did squander the lead three times.
29 Pronger, in an attempt to unnerve the younger Blackhawks, kept taking the puck at the end of games early in the series.
30 The 28 seconds it took the Blackhawks to score a pair of goals in Game 2 is a sour memory, but one that must be included in this report. Ben Eager, a former Flyer, tallied the game-winner just moments after Marian Hossa opened the scoring. The Flyers, down 0-2, were in a familiar position.
31 "We never make it easy on ourselves," Briere said. "What I like about our team is the way we respond when we put ourselves with our backs against the wall. We've overcome it before and we're confident we can do it again."
32 It took a Giroux goal at 5:59 into the first overtime, but the Flyers did claw their way back into the series. They evened it up 2 days later by hanging on for a rousing 5-3 win.
33 The Blackhawks seemed buoyed by their success in the third period of Game 4 and completely flattened the Flyers in Game 5, 7-4. Dustin Byfuglien, a star earlier in the postseason for Chicago, woke up in the finals with four points and nine official hits. The Flyers seemed to be running on fumes.
34 With their figurative knees buckling and the referee about to stop the fight, the Flyers showed one more heartbeat when Hartnell forced overtime late in Game 6 at the Wachovia Center. Patrick Kane ended it with a goal from an impossible angle that only he saw go in. The immediate celebration was awkward, to say the least. Regardless, the Flyers' dream season was over.
35 Though the Blackhawks had captured the Cup, fans saluted the home club one last time with a "Let's Go Flyers" chant that rang from the rafters. Several players were emotional in the locker room when asked about it afterward. They sounded like it's something they will always remember. *