Flyers players look on after losing the Stanley Cup Finals. Photo by Ed Hille/Philly Innquirer.
Though the color red runs through my veins (metaphorically and literally) there has always been orange and black mixed in there as well. Last night’s game brought out something in me that I haven’t felt in so long. It brought out the blood-thirsty, Cup-starving Flyers fan that was shaking with rage after seeing yet another chance to see the orange and black hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup taken away from me.
But so be it. This is a city that has embraced their warriors on ice for 43 years now. We got an early taste of victory in 1973-74 and 1974-75 but have not seen them drink from the chalice since. Instead we saw losses in 1976, 1980, 1985, 1987, 1997, and 2010 with the last two during my fandom.
This season started out with huge expectations. After trading for Chris Pronger, taking a chance on goalie Ray Emery, and signing role players like Ian Laperriere and Blair Betts, the Flyers were expected to be serious challengers for the Stanley Cup. But Pronger’s role in the locker room was questioned with rumors of there being a rift between him and Mike Richards. Emery went down with a season-ending injury which started the great goalie fiasco of Philly. Then there serious injuries to super starts Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter during the regular and post season scared the fans into thinking all was lost. But the big loop on the roller coaster of the season came when the team fell to 14th place after switching coaches. They fought back to make the playoffs as the seventh seed on the last day after beating the New York Rangers in a shoot out.
The playoffs started out against the New Jersey Devils, another hated team from the North Jersey/New York area. Where people talk funny and think Jersey Shore is the bomb. The Devils got pummeled in five games by the Flyers, but were able to take out Carter and Laperriere in the defeat.
The Flyers had to face the Boston Bruins in the next round. This series became probably the most memorable in all of Philadelphia sports. The Bruins took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series, putting the Flyers on the brink of elimination. In game four in Philadelphia, Gagne returned to provide a spark, and ultimately the overtime game-winning goal. The Flyers had life and the rest became history. In game seven, Gagne scored with about five minutes left in the game to give the Flyers the lead and eventually the series.
The next foes were the Montreal Canadiens. After shutting on Montreal in the first two games, they dropped game three. Laperriere and Carter both returned to the Flyers as they steam-rolled Montreal and made it back to the Cup finals for the first time in 13 years to face the waiting Chicago Blackhawks, who swept San Jose.
The first two games went in Chicago’s favor despite the Flyers out-playing them. The series swung to Philadelphia where the boisterous, orange-clad crowd backed their team as they evened the series at two games apiece. Then Chicago went back home and dominated the Flyers.
Game six was in Philadelphia. The Flyers forced over time after Scott Hartnell’s second goal. But only minutes into over time, confusion preceded heart-break. Patrick Kane threw a shot at the net that went through Michael Leighton’s legs and into the net, trapped underneath the lining where it wasn’t visible. Kane started celebrating and the place went quiet. 20,000 confused fans soon held their head in their hands when they knew it was a goal. The ride was over.
Let it sink in…
I had to pause after typing that last sentence. After being expected to win the Cup and then expected to miss the playoffs, it’s hard to really know how to feel after this season. No team wearing those jerseys have give us fans a thrill like that in 35 years. They felt like a Cup-winning team. They had the make-up of a Cup-winning team. But that didn’t happen. So what?
Thank you, Flyers, for one of the most memorable season’s of my life. As the saying goes in Philadelphia: There’s always next year.