Flyers' run comes to shocking end
PHILADELPHIA -- In the Philadelphia Flyers' dressing room, there was no solace in having fought the good fight.
Instead, there was only a funeral silence and a kind of shock.
Players hung their gear in stalls as though there might be another practice, another game. They filed one by one into the dressing room to meet with the reporters gathered there and then left quickly, as though to spend any more time inside would remind them that there are no more tomorrows.
Occasionally, the sounds of the Blackhawks' celebration on the Wachovia Center ice would filter into the room, another reminder of the opportunity that had been lost on this night. That's the thing about losing a Stanley Cup -- the reminders, sounds and sights of the opportunity lost are everywhere.[+] EnlargeJerry Lai/US PresswireMichael Leighton and the Flyers saw their Cinderella run come to an end in overtime of Game 6.
This is what happens when a team that believes deeply in its own destiny is confronted by the reality that this Stanley Cup was someone else's destiny at the end of the day, someone else's prize.
"We just believed that this was just the way it was supposed to go, just the way it was supposed to happen," said center Daniel Briere, his voice low and cracking with emotion. "Score late in the third period to send it to overtime. We just thought we were meant to go back to Chicago, so at this point, not too many guys could say much. It just hurts too much."
The skilled forward established a new Flyers postseason record with 30 points thanks to a three-point effort in Game 6, and there was a kind of symmetry to his play even as the magic ran out for the Flyers. It was Briere who scored a shootout goal in the regular-season finale against the New York Rangers to open the door to the playoffs for this unlikely group of finalists.
Two months later, the Flyers saw their fantastical playoff run come to an abrupt end when Patrick Kane snapped a bad-angle shot past netminder Michael Leighton at 4:06 into overtime to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win and their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
Briere was asked if this team might have some lasting impact in a city that's been waiting for another Cup championship since 1975, and most recently appeared in the Cup finals in 1997.
"I hope so. I hope there's many years to come where we get this far or even farther," said Briere, the cut under his right eye -- sustained in Game 5 -- still an ugly greenish/yellow color. "But right now, tonight, it's kind of tough to appreciate everything we went through. It's probably going to take a few days at least to get over the sting of getting this far and coming up empty-handed.
"I'm proud of the guys. I know I'm going to remember this group of guys for a long time. But it's going to take a little bit of time to get over the sting of this loss."
Long after the game ended, many of the players and coaches seemed incredulous, not just that it was over, but at the way it had all ended.
"I haven't seen it yet. I didn't see the goal," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "Things happened quick. It came in off the angle. I saw one of their players skate across the ice like he had won something. I got a little pit in my stomach."
Briere said he was waiting for his next shift, even as the Blackhawks started to throw their gloves off in celebration.
"I thought it was a whistle. I was getting ready, waiting for Peter to send some guys for a defensive zone faceoff. I had no clue," Briere said of the goal that had to be reviewed. "And then, all of a sudden, I see them being confused, a few guys jumping on the ice, not knowing what was going on. Then all of a sudden, I was 'No, that can't be it.' You can't win a Stanley Cup not even knowing, not even being sure if you really won it or not. I couldn't even believe that they'd win a Stanley Cup this way."
Scott Hartnell was playing in his first Cup finals a decade into his career. When will his next chance come?
"You've waited 10 years to be in the finals here and probably won't be playing in 10 more, so you never know if this is your only kick at the cat. But it's over," he said.
That this dreamy run through the playoffs for the seventh-seeded Flyers is over certainly can't be laid at Hartnell's feet. He was a force in Game 6 and was, along with Briere, the team's best forward in the finals. It was Hartnell's goal with 3:59 left in regulation that tied the score at three-all and reinforced for many in the Flyers' room that this was indeed their year.
"I think it's really good for Scott to finish as strong as he did through the playoffs and have the playoffs to end on a positive note like that," Laviolette said. "His regular season was a tough year for him, I think on and off the ice. Everything seemed to kind of be put behind him. He focused just on hockey."
As this series progressed, the flaws in the Flyers' lineup seemed to loom larger.
• The failure of captain Mike Richards to produce as he had earlier in the playoffs.
• The ineffectiveness of his linemates, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne. Carter had just one empty-net goal in the series. Both seemed to be laboring, perhaps due to serious foot injuries that sidelined them for part of the postseason.
• The Flyers' goaltending, a historic bugaboo for the franchise, was a compelling storyline, with Leighton coming in during the Boston series in place of the injured Brian Boucher and helping to guide the Flyers to a historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit.
But as the Cup finals went along, Leighton was pulled twice, and allowed a weak goal by Patrick Sharp in Game 6 and the series-clinching goal by Kane from a bad angle. It will frankly be a shock if Leighton returns to the Flyers next season.
"I think we all feel bad for Michael," Briere said. "He's had a tremendous run through the playoffs. It's sad that it ends up on a fluky goal like that. I think it's going to sting all of us for a long time. I think we all feel responsible to some degree for losing that game."
Still, watching the players numbly change into their street clothes and head for their families and friends, it seemed almost petty to point out their flaws, especially after following the path they took.
Could the Flyers have won? Even though Chicago was more talented and heavily favored, five one-goal games suggest that this series was indeed there for the taking. But that will not provide much solace for the Flyers -- not for a long time, anyway.
"Other than Game 5, five one-goal games. It's probably a little closer than a lot of people gave us credit for," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "That's what hurts, is that we believed in here in this locker room that we could win, and ultimately we didn't."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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