BOSTON - Well, look at the bright side.

Their starting goalie finished the game.

Sergei Bobrovsky didn't look half-bad last night either, stopping 22 Boston shots, some of them doozies.

That's not likely to quell the conversation in the Delaware Valley this morning, however, one that will resemble most of the day-after-elimination conversations that have taken place since Bernie Parent hoisted the Cup over his God-grown hair in 1975.

With a nodding exception to Ron Hextall and his near-magical Conn Smythe run, the recant goes like this:

The Flyers should get a name-brand goaltender.


Who cares how?

Buy one, trade for one, kidnap one if they have to.

Would it have made a difference in this series, given the one-sided scores, given the frantic and panicky the way this team played without a healthy Chris Pronger in its end, and given the Flyers' lack of scoring? That all depends on your philosophy about the impact of goaltending.

Good and bad.

"Goaltending . . . I believe, is a function of your team," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said.

"It plays on your mind," Bruins forward Mark Recchi said. Twice a Flyer, he has lived and died many a playoff death with it. He was there for Roman Cechmanek. The Flyers didn't score much for him, either.

"You don't have that confidence," Recchi said. "You don't know what to expect as a team, and it doesn't allow you to play the way you're supposed to play, the way you want to play."

Last night's 5-1 score was a bit misleading, of course, Boston's final two goals scored when Bob was on the bench, and the Flyers were trying to do something that would have trumped last year's climb from an 0-3 playoff hole against a Bruins team much more fragile and disjointed than the one they faced this time.

Rallying from two goals down for this team, this year, seemed the equivalent of going 200 feet in skates, on a beach.

"It was like we were skating in sand," Kimmo Timonen had said of their dispirited Game 3 loss here by an identical score. He said this while assuring all that would not be the case last night.

"We didn't try to get to this point just so we could try to climb out of it again," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said

before the game. "You listen around, everybody has written us off completely already. Our team has won a lot of hockey games. I don't think it's completely unimaginable for us to beat the Boston Bruins in one game . . . We have one game to play, we need to win it, and we have a lot of confidence in our group that we can do it."

But when the first period ended, the Bruins had a 1-0 lead and the Flyers had even more explaining to do. Outshot, 13-6, in the first period of a game they had to have? Saved from a deeper hole by their rookie goalie, who was making a case that maybe, just maybe, he shouldn't have been shelved so quickly during this aborted run.

"They played a little looser actually than we thought they would, because of the goaltender carousel," Recchi said of this series. "Sometimes you concentrate on really tightening up and doing the job. And they didn't do that as much as I thought they would."

Maybe because of their success against Buffalo and their Olympic goalie. Maybe because of their success against this team last year. But a sizable portion of the Bruins' lineup changed over last season, and it would have been even more if anyone had been interested in acquiring their 36-year-old, injury-prone, $5 million-a-year backup goaltender, Tim Thomas.

Despite being selected to back up Ryan Miller for the United States team in last winter's Olympics, Thomas didn't play a second during the Flyers' historic comeback. The Flyers passed on trade offers, as did several other clubs, and so he returned to Boston, almost out of default.

He played in this series, and the previous one, the way every coach hopes his starter does.

His best and biggest saves came when his team needed them the most, after it had rallied from an 0-2 hole in Game 2, after the Flyers tied last night's game at 1. Thomas' performance in Boston's Game 2 overtime victory probably dictated the series result, as the Flyers never again played with anything near the intensity they had in the third period and overtime Monday night.

They had 23 shots on Thomas last night. It was their lowest total of these playoffs.

So maybe it wasn't him on this night. Or maybe what he did in Game 2 dictated this night, dictated Wednesday's result, too. The Flyers only scored two goals in their last nine periods. Hard to blame their goalie for that.

That was the company line last night, of course, the way it

always is with this team after an early and unexpected exit. But it's a funny dynamic in hockey, the goaltender position, kind of like the role of a field-goal kicker if he kicked on every down. In a game that leans so heavily on extra effort and physical sacrifice, the goalie's play can energize you and it can deflate you. If this series told you nothing else, it told you that. *

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