CHICAGO - For as long as Flyers goalie Ray Emery returns to Chicago, the images of 2 million red-clad fans who packed Grant Park on a glorious June day last summer to serenade him and the Blackhawks will be fresh.
He will think about his relationship with starter Corey Crawford and the rest of his teammates, a link that is permanently etched in silver on that gleaming Stanley Cup.
"Any time you win a championship, you form a special bond," Emery said. "The one I have with Crawford, the one I have with those guys . . . we were all at the same stage in our lives, it was tough to leave."
The Blackhawks fought to keep Emery, a free agent last summer, after his 17-1-0 season, but the lure of the possibility of more playing time in Philadelphia was too great.
Yet, when Emery looks back on his 2-year stop in the Windy City, he is most reminded of a team that allowed him to resurrect his once-dead career. Emery was able to close that chapter of his career with a trip to the White House on Nov. 4, but he will get a chance to relish his return tonight when he starts for the Flyers in his first game back at the United Center.
"I had an injury and teams were scared of that," Emery said. "Chicago gave me an opportunity and I was really grateful for that. It was definitely memorable here, I enjoyed playing in Chicago."
When Emery left the Flyers in 2010 to undergo hip surgery to repair avascular necrosis, a degenerative disease that cut off blood flow to his bone, Scott Hartnell thought he might have seen the last of Emery. It was a disease Bo Jackson couldn't overcome.
The road hasn't been easy. It still isn't easy, requiring daily maintenance of the overused joint for goaltenders - something that isn't lost on his teammates.
"You watch him in practice, he's a competitor," Hartnell said. "He's always battling. He's probably really excited to battle against his teammates.
"It was a few years ago now that the Blackhawks beat us in the Stanley Cup final , and that still hurts. It will be fun to play extra hard for him and get the win."
The Flyers will catch the defending Cup champs at the perfect time, coming off last night's win in Dallas, with Crawford sidelined for 2 to 3 weeks with a lower-body injury. Antti Raanta, 24, is expected to start his fifth NHL game for the Hawks tonight.
It was Emery's relationship with Crawford, besides his record and stats, that made him an attractive fit for the Flyers. They wanted someone comfortable splitting time with Steve Mason - and they found him. Some goaltending tandems say they get along, but it's just talk. Mason and Emery are truly close.
"He's a great teammate," Mason said. "There's obviously some situations that aren't great for some goaltenders around the league; it can be difficult because there's only one guy playing at a time and both guys want to be that guy. This season has been really smooth. We've been extremely supportive.
"Hopefully the boys can rally and come away with the two points, because he definitely deserves it."
Naturally, after dropping another shootout on Monday, the NHL's all-time worst shootout team (25-45) worked on breakaways in its 45-minute practice yesterday.
The Flyers have left two extra standings points on the table (1-2) this season, which would already be the difference between waking in a playoff spot yesterday and not.
"It's always good to work on them," coach Craig Berube said, "For the goalie and the players."
Like in regulation, Steve Mason (fifth among 19 goalies with 10 or more attempts in shootouts this season) hasn't gotten much help from his teammates.
The Flyers have scored as much as they've missed the net (twice) on 10 shots. Berube has mostly ridden his players with the best career numbers - Matt Read (45 percent), Claude Giroux (41), Wayne Simmonds (25) and Vinny Lecavalier (25) - but one player is glaringly missing: Scott Hartnell.
It's amazing that after 901 career games, Hartnell has just one attempt (0-for-1).
That's because Hartnell doesn't particularly enjoy the shootout. In his only attempt, he ran into the goaltender.
"I'm not going to lie, it's a little nerve-racking," he said. "I've never been one of the top four or five guys here or in Nashville on breakaways. There's a lot of guys that I think have better moves than me one-on-one."
Claude Giroux, Kimmo Timonen and Steve Downie sat out yesterday's practice. All are likely to play tonight, with the team calling it a "maintenance" day for them. Rest probably has a lot to do with that, since the Flyers enjoy a home game tomorrow, hours after returning from a 13-day road trip . . .
Craig Berube criticized his players for passing up three partial two-on-one breaks without a shot on net in Ottawa. "That's the stuff that bothers me," he said. "We could have ended that game earlier" . . . Berube said call-up Tye McGinn will get in the lineup "when the time's right" . . . Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen posed for photos with Flyers players after shooting around on the United Center court yesterday afternoon.