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Positives are Plentiful Despite Cup Defeat

Thursday, 06.10.2010 / 11:21 AM / News
By Bill Fleischman  - philadelphiaflyers.com
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Positives are Plentiful Despite Cup Defeat
The Wachovia Center is silent today while in Chicago they are planning a rousing parade.

Thousands of stunned orange-clad Flyers fans are reluctantly putting away their T-shirts and hats for future use. On a rainy night in South Philadelphia that felt more like April than June, they stood in disbelief at the end of Game 6 on Wednesday night as Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks celebrated the Stanley Cup-clinching goal while the Flyers stood around and fans wondered what happened.

In one of the weirdest finishes ever to a Cup final, no light went on signaling a goal and initially there was no signal from referees. Finally, after the video was reviewed, it was clear that Kane’s ice-hugging shot from a deep left angle had beaten Michael Leighton.

Game over. Series over. Dreams over.

It was fitting that the final score of last night’s game was 4-3 in overtime. That’s how close the Flyers and Blackhawks are. Chicago has a little more speed than the Flyers and it executes marvelously. But no NHL team has more heart than the Flyers. They proved it again last night by scoring two goals to lead 2-1. After they fell behind 3-2, with the clock ticking toward Chicago’s clinching, Scott “Mountain Man” Hartnell scored his second goal of the game with just 3:59 remaining in regulation.
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi (31) talks with Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michael Leighton (49) after the Blackhawks beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in overtime to win Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey finals on Wednesday, June 9, 2010, in Philadelphia. At left is Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

That the Flyers could force overtime after the Blackhawks played their best 40 minutes on the road in the finals in the first two periods is further proof of the playoff magic the Flyers had discovered after struggling late in the regular season.

Early in overtime the Flyers had excellent scoring chances: Claude Giroux, on a Mike Richards pass; Simon Gagne, then Hartnell. As often happens when one team dominates early in overtime and fails to score, the other team strikes quickly. Kane’s shot slid under Leighton’s pads to end Chicago’s 49-year Cup drought.

“Everyone was wondering if it’s in,” a subdued Leighton said. “I looked back and saw it stuck in the net, so I knew it was in. It’s something you dream (about) your whole life and you get there. To end like that is tough.”

Describing the abruptness of the defeat, Braydon Coburn told Steve Coates on the Comcast SportsNet postgame show, “It feels like getting hit in the chest with a sledgehammer.” Coates valiantly tried to get the Flyers defenseman to talk about the positives in the playoffs, but Coburn just couldn’t do it at the moment.

In a few weeks, when the heartache wears off a little, the Flyers will have many positives to take from their remarkable and inspiring playoff run. No one expected them to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Even inside the locker room, I doubt if you’ll find a player who confidently predicted the Flyers would be in the finals.

All players hope and try to sound confident, but this is a team that barely qualified for the playoffs. After winning the shootout against the New York Rangers, they dispatched the second-seeded New Jersey Devils in five games. Then they rallied from an 0-3 deficit to eliminate Boston. Next, Montreal went down in five games.

After losing the first two games of the finals in Chicago against the favored Blackhawks, the Flyers evened the series by winning twice in Philadelphia. Now, they know what’s needed to win a championship and cure the franchise’s own 35-year Cup-less spell.

Some positives:
 
► Finding a terrific line with Hartnell, Danny Briere and Ville Leino. After a miserable regular season, Hartnell scored eight goals in the playoffs, including a series-leading five in the finals. Briere was the leading scorer in the playoffs with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists). His 30 points are a Flyers playoff record. Briere’s 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists) are one short of Wayne Gretzky’s finals record of 13 points, set in 1988. Leino tied the playoff rookie scoring record with 21 points (7 goals, 14 assists).

► The emergence of Claude Giroux as an on-ice force. He scored 21 points in the playoffs (10 goals, 11 assists) and also was an effective penalty killer.

► The overall play of Chris Pronger and Matt Carle. Pronger’s last two games weren’t his strongest, but he was a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. Pronger was the highest scoring defenseman in the playoffs: 18 points on 4 goals, 14 assists. Carle contributed 13 points (1 goal, 12 assists) and was a reliable blueliner.

Kimmo Timonen’s steady play. The guy rarely makes a mistake. Next season, fans are advised to follow him on the ice…watch his positioning, his ice vision. A hockey treat…
 
► Goaltending. Michael Leighton wasn’t the second coming of Bernie Parent, but during stretches he was outstanding. He kept the Flyers in some games (see, first period of Game 6 when Chicago outshot the Flyers 17-7). I’d be comfortable opening next season with Leighton and Brian Boucher as the Flyers net guardians.
 
► Peter Laviolette’s coaching. In December he took over a team that was going nowhere and molded them into a Stanley Cup finalist. He’s a motivator and he pushes the right buttons.
 
Summarizing his feelings for the Flyers, Laviolette said, “I’m proud of the guys for giving themselves an opportunity to compete for the Cup. It’s going to sting for a while. It hurts right now. But they never quit. They are a resilient group. I think we grew through adversity.”
 
And Flyers fans grew to embrace Laviolette and this Flyers team. As the Flyers and Blackhawks shook hands on the ice, the fans chanted “Let’s go Flyers!” Nice gesture. It’s as if they couldn’t wait for next season to start.


Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1982, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.

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