A LITTLE LESS than an hour before game No. 82 against the New York Rangers, Scott Hartnell and Arron Asham were warming up in a hot tub underneath the stands at the Wachovia Center.
Sharing a chuckle, Asham offered a bold, half-serious prognostication for the do-or-die game - for both teams.
"I said that day, 'Whoever wins this game is going to win the Stanley Cup,' " Asham recalled.
As the Flyers packed up their bags yesterday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., together one last time before dispersing throughout the world, the joke didn't seem all that funny.
The Flyers (55-44-6 including playoffs) were just two wins away from fulfilling that crazy prophecy.
But it did seem a little odd that the Rangers - a team in the same exact spot that day - stopped playing nearly 2 months ago.
"We ended up going to the shootout and rolled through New Jersey, and we were always kind of talking about it," Hartnell said. "Next thing you know, it was Game 6 and we said, 'If we win this game, we're going to win the Stanley Cup in Game 7.' That's just one thing that sticks out in my mind.
"He would have been a genius if he predicted that."
Most Flyers fans would have called Asham crazy. In fact, most people inside that Flyers locker room on that day - April 11 - probably would have laughed at Asham. It all seemed so far-fetched: that a team that couldn't stay healthy or string together a consistent week yet alone a consistent game would rattle through three rounds of the playoffs.
Ten, maybe even 20 years from now, people will remember this 2009-10 Flyers team as one that played at their best when faced with the worst.
"We never quit," Danny Briere said. "The way we played for each other just was amazing to me. When everybody counted us out, many, many times, how we fought. We kept coming back up every time we got knocked down, until that last game. That's what I am most proud about my teammates."
The fact that there was no Game 7 being played last night at the United Center was tough to come to grips with yesterday. Captain Mike Richards said he felt like he needed to "peel" himself out of bed.
"It's still pretty tough to wake up in the morning," Richards said. "I think it's just difficult that it's over. You have nothing to do. I'm frustrated with the way it finished. This is the toughest thing I've ever gone through. To come up with nothing is disappointing.
"I think everyone realizes how hard it is to win. I can honestly say I have pretty much nothing left in the tank; it was mentally and physically exhausting. It was hard just to move around [yesterday]. The lesson there is how hard it is and the dedication you've got to have to the game just to put yourself in that position."
There also was a realization that as this team parted ways for the summer, and completed its exit interviews with Peter Laviolette and Paul Holmgren, that some would never be back again. Even with championship teams, no team ever stays completely intact.
"We had a lot of laughter, a lot of giggles, remembering different plays or funny times," Hartnell said, sporting a Fu Manchu goatee in the wake of his playoff beard. "You never know who's going to be here and who isn't going to be here, so it's good to just take this time and enjoy it."
In the end, it was hard for the Flyers to completely enjoy the day - their first without hockey since last September - knowing that the team they just battled paraded through Chicago with 2 million eyes glued to the shiny prize they sought without resign.
"When you look at the year," Chris Pronger said, "I wasn't sure what these fine young soldiers were going to be like. It was a little bit of a tough start to my first year. But good things in life are never easy. It was a lot of fun. The finish was better, just not what we envisioned." *
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.