AND SO, THIS is how it ends, one of those only-in-Philadelphia nights. It is a story that we pass down through the hockey generations, like baldness. The Flyers lost a playoff series to the New Jersey Devils and this will be the enduring symbol from the final game:
Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, trying to shoot a puck away from the front of his net, away to safety, instead seeing the puck picked out of the air by Devils forward David Clarkson and ricocheting behind him and into the goal.
It was impossible, and it happened.
It was Cechmanek-esque, or burlesque.
It joins the pucks that impossibly sneaked in through John Vanbiesbrouck that year against Toronto, and the Roman Cechmanek meltdown against Buffalo, and the Cup-losing goal that somehow eluded Michael Leighton in 2010, and the dizzily spinning carousel that was the three-goaltender situation in 2011.
When that goal happened Tuesday night, it was only the first period. The Flyers' deficit was only 2-1. But as soon as everyone realized what had happened, and that the puck was in the net, it was obvious that another chapter in the endless municipal tragicomedy was being written.
The final score was Devils 3, Flyers 1. The series was over in five games. Pinning it on Bryzgalov would be more than unfair. At the same time, nobody is ever going to forget how that second one got behind him.
"I saw [Clarkson] was coming," Bryzgalov said. "I wanted to put the puck in the corner for Kimmo [Timonen]. The puck, I don't know - it hit him in his stick and goes in the net. A bad bounce, unfortunately. It could go anywhere - in the corner, higher, lower - but it goes straight between the legs . . .
"It was just unlucky," he said.
The play began with Timonen passing the puck back to Bryzgalov, who has never been thought of as much of a puck-handler. Still, the goaltender said that was not the problem.
"No, Kimmo did that a couple of times this season, I think," he said. "It's not that I didn't expect it. I just tried to put the puck in the corner for Kimmo to start the attack, but Carlson . . . "
The truth is, Bryzgalov played well in the series overall. Really, he has played well since he allowed five goals on 18 shots in Game 4 of the Flyers' first-round series against Pittsburgh. In the first four games against Pittsburgh, his save percentage was an awful .844. In the next seven games, including Tuesday's, his save percentage was a credible .907.
He was good enough for them to win games, but it was the strangest thing during the series. In the games where Bryzgalov was at his best, the team was timid in front of him. They could never get it synced up.
"I'm not happy because we're not going into the next round," Bryzgalov said. "I can't be happy with my performance. It's a team game. We lose, and it doesn't matter if you play well or bad . . . The whole team loses. It doesn't matter if you play well. It's not enough."
On Tuesday night, playing without suspended star Claude Giroux, the Flyers came out hitting everything. Zac Rinaldo was a human missile. The Flyers took another 1-0 lead, as they seem to do every night - but they couldn't hold either that lead or their early emotional edge.
Overall, they played a much better game than they did in Games 2, 3 or 4. They did not struggle nearly as much with either getting the puck out of their end or with keeping possession in the New Jersey end. It was a much more even game. Where that edge was in the middle of the series is the question to which there is no answer. Someone wondered if they had been spent, either physically or emotionally, in six wild games in the first round against the Penguins.
"But we had some time to recover, a week more than New Jersey," Bryzgalov said. (Actually, it was 4 days.)
"Some teams play seven games every round and still push hard and play tight games and try to win," he said. "I don't know. Really, I don't have an answer what just happened with us during the series."
And, in the end, they were playing from behind because of the goal that went bump in the night. They could never overcome the deficit, or the shock of the thing that always seems to happen around here.
"I guess it was not our night, and not our fate to go to the next round," Bryzgalov said.
And so it will be told, another Philadelphia goaltending story.
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