The Flyers are wide awake now, just in time to make another serious run at the Stanley Cup.
They may have dozed off as the long regular season wound down. And maybe they hit the snooze button once or twice during their first-round playoff series with the seventh-seeded Buffalo Sabres.
After six wildly erratic games, a sellout crowd at the Wells Fargo Center finally saw the team that reached the Finals last year and dominated the first three-quarters of the regular season. The Flyers roared out of the tunnel and routed the overwhelmed Sabres, 5-2, to advance to the second round.
After six hard-fought, white-knuckle games, Flyers fans were able to spend most of the third period serenading the Sabres with, "Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey-ey, goodbye."
The Flyers survived despite having three goaltenders benched during the series, despite the absence of defenseman Chris Pronger for five games and despite a blown fuse in their power play for most of the series.
Like last year, when they won five possible elimination games, the Flyers played their best when a loss meant the end of their season.
"I think it boils down to the heart and character in the room," Pronger said, "to guys understanding you have to have a never-say-quit attitude from the drop of the puck to the end buzzer. You have to be prepared to sacrifice."
In Game 7, the power play sparked to life, Pronger saw extensive action, and steady Brian Boucher established himself as the No. 1 goalie going into the second round. In other words, the Flyers finally looked like the team they were supposed to be all along.
They can still play Boston, Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay. There are great story lines involving all three. The Flyers would have home ice no matter what.
That was their goal during the regular season. Coach Peter Laviolette said the Flyers weren't concerned with winning the President's Trophy for most points or even getting the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They just wanted to be able to play as many games as possible at home - especially decisive Game 7s.
"We've played a lot of games with our backs against the wall," Flyers center and series star Danny Briere said. "I like the character of our team."
Home ice has not been a major factor throughout this year's NHL playoffs, and the Flyers were 1-2 at the Center and 2-1 in Buffalo before Game 7. But from the moment Lauren Hart's duet with the image of Kate Smith ended, followed by a wall of noise from the orange-clad faithful, the Sabres seemed overwhelmed.
"You could feel the buzz in the building," Pronger said.
"I think our experience really showed," Briere said. "We've played a lot of big games in the last year, with mostly the same group."
The Flyers swarmed Ryan Miller, the elegant goaltender who was named MVP of last year's Olympic tournament. They peppered him with 16 shots in the first period. Claude Giroux hit a post. Miller made some terrific saves. And then, with 19 seconds left in the period, Braydon Coburn fired a puck on net from just inside the blue line.
The puck appeared to tick off the glove of a Sabres defenseman. It dipped down and slipped between Miller's pads. Danny Briere, the former Sabre who led the Flyers with six goals in this series, tapped his old pal on the back of the helmet.
"Just a little excitement," Briere smiled. "I was overjoyed."
Miller had as puzzling a series as the Flyers. He registered two 1-0 victories (two more shutouts than Flyers goalies had all season), but also coughed up big leads in three other games. In Game 7, he finally broke down completely.
Briere slipped a shot past him early in the second period. James van Riemsdyk tipped in a blast from Giroux to make it 3-0. After a blast from Ville Leino beat him in the third period, Miller was unceremoniously pulled from the game.
It was an all-too-common sight in this series. For the Flyers. Laviolette went with rookie Sergei Bobrovsky to start the series. He lasted into the first period of Game 2. Boucher replaced him, then was pulled after giving up three goals in the first period of Game 5. Michael Leighton, who spent this season in the minor leagues after back surgery, replaced him and started Game 6 in Buffalo.
Common wisdom says that is a formula for disaster. The Flyers, who came back from a 3-0 deficit against Boston last year, have little regard for common wisdom. They found ways to stay alive and force one more game in their home arena.
This time the alarm went off in time. The Flyers woke up, and their dream is alive.