Who could blame you right now if you’re doubting the Philadelphia Flyers?
Really, who could blame you? Who could say that your thought process was either “way off” or “discombobulated”? Who could tell you that this current series is by no means over?
Who could make you believe?
How about the Flyers themselves?
Remember back to game 82 of the long and grueling regular season that comes along with participation in the National Hockey League. The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers squared off in a “Win and You’re In” game at the Wachovia Center. The Rangers scored first, and looked in control early. If your thought process involved the Flyers sinking into an abyss, and faltering at that point in time, who could’ve blamed you? However, the Flyers kept working. The Orange and Black proved to live up to their season mantra, for perhaps the first time all season, sustaining a “Relentless” attack against the Rangers and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. In the third period, when the hope was likely the dimmest for many Flyers fans, the Flyers shined light heavily back into the equation. Matt Carle roofed a rebound off his backhand and into the net to even the game at 1-1. The Flyers had always believed, and now the fans had reason to again. Still, a 1-1 draw ended up remaining on the scoreboard until the game headed into overtime. In an overtime filled with tension and anticipation, heart rates climbed when the only buzzer that sounded during the frame was that signaling a trip to a shootout.
A shootout; placing the entirety of your playoff hopes against arguably the best goaltender in the league today. The Rangers had Lundqvist, the Flyers had Woonsocket, Rhode Island native Brian Boucher. Who could’ve blamed the majority of the Flyer faithful for having their doubts? Danny Briere certainly couldn’t have. Yet he helped ease the suspense when he sent Lundqvist’s jockstrap somewhere onto I-76 on a deke as the first shooter to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the shootout. Still, why was there any reason to believe in Brian Boucher and his ability to stop at least two breakaways at that point to send the Flyers to the postseason? There wasn’t much of a reason at all, to be honest. But Boucher stood tall in his first attempt, a stop on try from Erik Christensen.
And then, when Claude Giroux scored in the third round to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead in the shootout (P.A. Parenteau had beaten Boucher in round two), there still couldn’t have been many who believed in Boosh to stop sniper Olli Jokinen and save the game and the season for Philadelphia. However, that’s just what he did, and they Flyers earned the trip to the postseason that had come so hard, but felt so rewarding. Brian Boucher believed the Flyers could do it, and so did his teammates.
Next up came a showdown in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the second-seeded New Jersey Devils. And after hanging on by a thread to win Game One, the Flyers were defeated late in Game Two, as New Jersey evened up the series. Who would blame you for doubting the Flyers then? The Devils had Ilya Kovalchuk and seemingly new life in a series they were favored to win. Who could’ve blamed the Flyers for folding and taking solace in the fact that they’d just been fortunate enough to make the playoffs in the first place? Anyone but the Flyers themselves, it seemed. Of course, the rest is Flyers history. Danny Carcillo was the overtime hero in Game Three to get the series back in Philadelphia’s favor. The Devils never won another game.
Then came a semi-final series with the Boston Bruins. The Flyers quickly fell into an 0-3 hole, and also fell behind 1-0 in Game Four. Why was there reason to believe that this Flyers team could come back? How could Michael Leighton, ice cold and coming off a high ankle sprain, fill in strongly in place of Brian Boucher, who went down with a pair of sprained knees in Game Five? How were the fans, and even the Flyers themselves, able treat an 0-3 deficit as if it were a 3-3 deadlock for four consecutive games? It would’ve been easy to keel over and die then, it really would’ve. Instead, the Flyers decided they’d rather make history. Simon Gagne decided he’d come back early from a broken toe and join them. The Orange and Black took four straight from the Black and Gold to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders as the only NHL teams to win a series after being down 0-3.
What if Ian didn’t believe in sacrifice? What if Broad Street didn’t fight back?
The Eastern Conference Finals were a whirlwind in themselves, with the Flyers seemingly coasting to wins in Games One and Two. But after the scene shifted to Montreal and the Habs blew the doors off the Flyers in the process en route to a 5-1 rout in Game Three, who would ever have expected the Flyers to come out and dominate in the fashion they did on their way to a 3-0 shutout and a 3-1 series lead in Game Four? Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter did. And so did the teammates and coaches they returned to join in Game Four after missing the previous three games of the Conference Finals and the entire Semi Finals series with what had previously been thought to have been season ending injuries (Broken orbital bone and brain contusion, and a broken foot, respectively).
What if, when the series shifted to Philadelphia, Mike Richards took a chance to close the series and snatch a certain Prince of Wales at home for granted? What if he didn’t rekindle images of the determination of Bobby Clarke when he tossed Tomas Plekanec out of the way en route to setting up a Jeff Carter empty-netter to send the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final?
What if the Flyers, a team burdened with the expectations of bringing a Stanley Cup to Philadelphia, simply wrote this season off as “not being our year”? What if they faltered in the limelight of the Stanley Cup Final, and fell to the Chicago Blackhawks convincingly?
Far from it. The Flyers arguably could have a 2-0 lead in this series going into tomorrow night’s Game Three at Wachovia Center. Instead their down 0-2 to the Blackhawks, and face a must win situation in Game Three to keep their Stanley Cup hopes alive. Who would blame any Flyers fan right now for having his or her doubts? Most wouldn’t.
This Flyers team knows they could be up 2-0 in this series right now. The Blackhawks know they could be down 0-2 in this series. The Flyers know they let two winnable games slip away in Chicago, so who’s to say that they won’t win two winnable games here in Philadelphia? And if they win Game Three, how much of a confidence boost will it give this franchise and this city, which collectively haven’t seen a victory in a Stanley Cup Final game since 1987? If you doubt the Philadelphia Flyers’ ability to do the unthinkable now, then shame on you. If you will be at the Wachovia Center tomorrow night and intend on sitting on your hands in nervous anticipation, don’t go and make a fortune selling your tickets. There are so many Flyers fans right now that would die at the opportunity to be inside the Orange Crush of the Wachovia Center tomorrow night. I’ll be there. I’ll be loud. And anyone else in Orange better be right there beside me. Chicago’s strutted their stuff on home ice. They’ve brought the series to Philly needing two wins to the Flyers’ four to win the Cup.
I don’t give a crap. All I care about is tomorrow night and the Flyers getting back into this series. I care about that sea of Orange that will be so loud and boisterous, your television sets likely won’t do it justice because (as is the norm at the Wachovia Center in the playoffs) they’ll have to turn down crowd volume so you can hear the announcers. I care about Lauren Hart, and the great Kate Smith singing a certain song to make the roof shake on top of the Wachovia Center. I care about a strong first period – one that sets the tone and one that lets the Chicago Blackhawks know that there is absolutely no chance they are going to win a game in our building.
Most importantly, I care about a win.
The Flyers have been sporting orange tee-shirts in their dressing room this series that show a picture of the Stanley Cup and simply state: “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough”.
Let’s be real here – to the Flyers, with everything that’s happened to this team this year and all they’ve had to overcome both off and on the ice, there’s only one phrase that’s related to the one on their shirts that is even remotely justifiable:
“Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get the Cup”
Do I Believe?
You had better believe it.