The Flyers have nothing to be ashamed of.
What began as a group of unlikable, vacation-taking pub crawlers, transformed, on a blood-stained playoff proving ground, into a gritty, gutsy, never-say-die team. The type of squad that, win or lose, gets etched into lore and has made Philadelphia proud.
“I’m proud of our team and the way we compete,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette told the media after his team’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks that gave Chicago the 4-2 Stanley Cup Finals victory. “The way we played, the way we never quit. We never gave up. They kept fighting.”
The lowly and overlooked 7th seed in the weak Eastern Conference, that needed miracle after miracle to stay alive in the playoffs, captivated a fan base that was starving for a Flyers team to be proud of. And as the opponents started dropping, they received just that.
The Orange and Black took down the New Jersey Devils in five games and upended the Boston Bruins in seven, despite handing them a 3-0 handicap. With the return of Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere from what was deemed at the time to be “season-ending injuries,” the Flyers proved to be more Cinderella than the Cinderella Montreal Canadiens, defeating them in five games. The amazing run just wouldn’t end.
That is, until they met the mighty Chicago Blackhawks.
The Apollo Creed to Philadelphia’s Rocky Balboa, the Western Conference second-seeded Hawks took it to the competitive Flyers in the first two games. But like they have done so many times before, the resilient and scrappy Bullies came marching back, taking games 3 and 4 in Philly.
Respect was given and respect was deserved.
The Hawks flexed their muscle in game 5 and had control in elimination game 6, that is until the third period. The Flyers, with their dying breath and their backs against the wall, refused to go gently, forcing Chicago to take the Stanley Cup out of their beaten hands. A pass from Flyers rookie Ville Leino deflected off Philly forward Scott Hartnell in front and into the net to send game 6 to overtime. But that’s where the magic would run out. Chicago’s Patrick Kane netted the game winner from a bad angle through the pads of Michael Leighton, whose crystal carriage turned dramatically back into a pumpkin in front of the hockey world.
Coasting gently back to the locker room, turning their backs to the Blackhawks celebration, the players hung their heads in defeat. The Flyers had finally lost.
“It hurts a lot,” said Flyers captain Mike Richards. “It was a good learning experience for us. I mean, you have to take out of it what it takes to win. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
The individual players gave post-game interviews with their eyes filled with tears of disappointment, befuddled that their efforts went unrealized. But in the days to come, when emotions settle and the players lineup for surgeries on their battle injuries — torn ligaments, damaged muscles and broken bones, they should begin to realize what they did indeed accomplished despite not touching the Cup.
They brought respect to a fan base and franchise that desperately needed it, but more importantly — they played some damn good hockey.