ALMOST A DECADE ago, when Travis Lee was a Phillie, Larry Bowa lamented baseball's "Whatever Generation." There was no emotion, he said, no team pulse, no apparent response to the team's twists and turns.

Frankly, they didn't give a damn.

Yesterday, Paul Holmgren said this about the 2009-10 Flyers:

"I think our players this year got to a point, whether it was a goalie going down, another injury, or some other problem, of 'Whatever.' "

This was no lament. This was gushing admiration from a man who has been one of this team's harshest critics, who had enough doubt about them late in this regular season to openly admit he was already evaluating what changes needed to be done for the next one.

Now?

"Getting into the playoffs the way we did, and having the playoff ride that we had, I'm hoping that's our team," the Flyers' general manager said.

He meant in terms of its "whatever" personality, of toughing out some ridiculously disadvantageous twists, right down to the fluky goal that finally did them in on Wednesday. They fired a coach. Several key players were affected by problems in their personal lives. The starting goalie was lost in December, and his two backups took turns getting injured at inopportune times.

They reached the playoffs with a shootout goal. They seemed doomed in the first round after Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter both broke bones in the same game. Ryan Parent fell on Brian Boucher in the next series and another key player was lost.

Whatever.

The attitude fortified them, pulled them together as a team. They were King Lear in the forest, Monty Python's black knight after his arms and legs had been sliced off.

That all you got?

Holmgren traces it to Chris Pronger, who brought a sense of fun and mischief to it all. During the run, captain Mike Richards marveled at his Olympic teammate's "calm," and as the games piled up, mimicked it as well. One day before finally being eliminated, amid a round in which he had only two points, Richards shrugged off questions about his performance with "whatever" type answers. He was getting enough chances, he said. The worst thing to do now was press, he said, to forget about all the other ways he was contributing out there.

The goals would come, he said.

They didn't. And as he answered questions into Thursday morning, the rawness of that realization choked him up - and you as well.

"I can honestly say that I pretty much have nothing left," Richards said yesterday. "Mentally, physically exhausted. Waking up yesterday, I almost had to peel myself out of bed just to move around. It's tough and the lesson there is just how hard it is.

"It's dedication."

Which begs the question: Did the Flyers put something in the bank this season that will make them more consistent for the next one? Can they build on this? Back in the day, dynasties were built on such near misses. The

Islanders ran off a string of Cups after the Flyers beat them in a Game 7. Edmonton ran off a string after the Islanders showed them just how hard it is.

More recently, Pittsburgh won the Cup in seven games a year

after a loss in the Stanley Cup

finals to Detroit.

Was that about lessons? Or just a few more bounces? Does "whatever" have staying power, a personality trait that will mark this as a beginning for the core of players who will likely return? Are they more insulated from adversity?

"I think so," Richards said. "I've said throughout the year that confidence is a big thing in this sport. And when you have that confidence, nothing fazes you. And that's a dangerous thing.

"Having gone through all the things we went through this year, you learn an awful lot about yourselves and things you need to do to be successful," said Pronger. "You put your back against the wall and see how you come out fighting and we certainly did that. This team can be very proud of that."

Said Richards, "It was the toughest thing I've ever gone through. To come up with nothing is obviously disappointing. But it's something we will take a lesson from." *

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