The improbable run stops here.
From being picked to win it before the season started, barely hanging onto a playoff berth all year long and stealing it at the last possible moment in a shootout win against the Rangers.
Having finally made it, the emotional rush didn’t leave them in aftershock. They handedly brushed the Devils aside, came out flat against the Bruins, but climbed back in historical fashion to steal the series. Once again, they could have let the high leave them vulnerable. But no, these Flyers controlled the Conference Finals and had their shot at the Cup.
Outmatched against their “Windy City” opponents, the Flyers needed the home ice advantage to dig themselves out of a 2-0 series hole to bring it back to Chicago tied. The Blackhawks ran them out of the building, leaving the boys in orange to recoup and come back in Game 6. Despite a determined Hawk force, the Flyers hung in it throughout.
Both teams came out flying to start period one. A series of questionable calls both ways led to power play chances both ways, with each team capitalizing. Dustin Byfuglien snuck in near the crease to bury one for his squad while Scott Hartnell backhanded a rebound through Niemi for the equalizer.
In the second, as Scott Hartnell, trying to jump back onsides, catches Duncan Keith’s skate and trips him up, Ville Leino goes in unchecked and slides the puck over to Danny Briere for a top shelf shot to take the lead.
Another couple of penalties brought it to 4-on-4 and the Hawks brought the puck in on a 3-on-3 rush. Lukas Krajicek left his man and got caught in limbo, allowing a quick couple of passes initiated by Duncan Keith to find Patrick Sharp alone to beat Leighton five hole and tie it at two goals apiece.
Late in the period, with Patrick Kane gathering a following of Flyers defenders as he skated around the Flyers zone, Mike Richards bought in and moved over from his man, Niklas Hjalmarsson. Kane found him with the puck for a shot to be deflected by Andrew Ladd for the 3-2 lead going into the third.
Throughout the entire final twenty minutes, the Blackhawks sat back and played a less aggressive game than they had throughout the series, seemingly counting the seconds until they could clutch the Cup.
The Flyers had other ideas, and fired at them desperately. For many, it seemed to be just a repeat of Game 2, when the Flyers buzzed around the Chicago net, yet were denied when it counted and fell 2-1. This time around, on an errant pass from Ville Leino into a crowd out front of Niemi’s net, a strange bounce sent it from Hossa’s pad off Hartnell’s stick and into the back of the net.
Four minutes to go in regulation, the home town boys were flying. Chance after chance was coming the Flyers way. Jeff Carter, with moments remaining, received the puck on his stick for a turnaround chance at point blank range. A diving Niemi barely nicked it with his blocker and kept the puck out, keeping his team alive into overtime.
As this dramatic display unfolded, Philadelphia continued the control and dominance they had built up as the third period was moving along. A diving Brent Seabrook kept Scott Hartnell, looking for an historic hat trick, from receiving a Briere pass to spring him loose on a breakaway.
After surviving another rush in the first few minutes of the extra session, Patrick Kane flew down the left wing and threw a bad angle shot on net. Deep in his crease, backing up across the goal line, Leighton was unable to get his pad down in time as the puck slide under, buried in the back of the net.
It was such a strange shot that hardly anyone in the arena knew it was in. Patrick Kane flew around the back of the net and back towards his team in celebration. Seeing the look on his face and the confirmation from the forwards up ice with him, the Hawks bench cleared in delight and disbelief.
The Flyers simply stared in shock. Brian Boucher looked around in confusion from his corner of the bench. In one of the strangest ways possible, this team of destiny had their series, their season, cut one game short.
Danny Briere discussed it post game, that this team had done so much, from the improbable to the downright impossible, that they didn’t think it was possible to lose. As the PA announcer informed the dumbstruck and silent fans that a goal had been awarded to Patrick Kane, all but a few batches of Chicago diehards had their breath knocked out of them.
It seems fitting that it would take something as ridiculous as Kane’s Cup winning OT score to topple the Flyers, who have answered everything thrown at them.
Captain Jonathan Toews, scoreless in these Finals, remained the playoffs highest point-getter coming into Game 6. For his performance and his team’s victory, he was awarded the Conn Smthe trophy as playoff MVP. When he hoisted the Cup, the first teammate to hold it was Marian Hossa, viewed as a curse after two straight Cup losses (not to mention his participation in the Flyers’ tying goal), had finally gotten his hands on the elusive Stanely Cup.
With the offseason officially underway, the Flyers now look to build off of this year’s successes and carry it through to the next season.
They may not want to think about it now, with their hearts still shattered, but these players have a locker room full of talent around them, from Chris Pronger and Mike Richards, now a proven captain, to Claude Giroux, Ville Leino (who now holds the rookie playoff scoring record), and a hopefully-matured Scott Hartnell.
Look for a great year of Flyers’ hockey in this ’10-’11 season.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Patrick Kane: With his top line counterparts on the Flyers struggling to produce, Patrick Kane was the shift the series needed in the Hawks favor. Five points in the last two games as his team broke a series tie and went on to win the Stanley Cup are proof of that. Add on to that the fact that his lone goal in Game 6 was the one to seal the deal, and you’ve got yourself a clutch performer.
Line Changes: The Hawk’s top line was broken up and split among the first three forward lines prior to Game 5. The Flyers couldn’t answer it then, but seemed to adjust in time for Game 6. As the Cup clincher went on, Laviolette made some moves, such as teaming up Simon Gagne, JVR, and Darroll Powe. This reaction to Chicago coach Quenneville’s move was too little too late, as the Flyers already found themselves one game and one bad bounce away from losing the series in overtime.
Legs and Depth: Matching lines and moving players aside, the Blackhawks simply had more scoring threats throughout their lineup, not to mention stronger, more physical, and faster moving players. They were simply better. The Flyers had the determination required to stay in it and nearly bring it to a Game 7, where anything could happen, but it wasn’t quite enough to topple this talented opponent.
Both teams wanted the Cup, but one deserved it; the other was only there to defy them with as much passion as they could muster.
KICK ‘EM WHILE THEIR DOWN
Reports are circulating that the reason the Stanley Cup was not presented at center ice, as it usually is, is because the league was fearful that Flyers fans would throw projectiles at it. The cup came out of the Zamboni entrance and was presented near the blue line. The NHL has denied the reports. Flyers fans acted incredibly well, with a smattering of boos heard amidst cheers as the Blackhawks lifted their first Cup since 1961.