The magical season ends

This article can be found published on Chicks Who Give a Puck.
The Philadelphia Flyers fell just two games short of the ultimate dream. (Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Flyers fell just two games short of the ultimate dream. (Getty Images)

Everyone thought it was destiny.  It was meant to be.  It was only a matter of time before Mike Richards was handed the coveted Lord Stanley’s Cup and skated around with it.  History was going to be made.

In reality, here the Flyers fans sit the day after Game 6 with an empty feeling inside.  Depression has begun to sink in.  We now dream of what could have been.

What if Michael Leighton stopped Patrick Kane’s shot?  What if Brian Boucher didn’t get hurt?  What if the Flyers didn’t pick up Leighton?  What if Peter Laviolette wasn’t hired?

But instead of thinking of all the “what ifs,” Flyers fans should take the time to reflect on the season that was in 2009-10.

*  *  *  *

The 2009 NHL Entry Draft didn’t see the Philadelphia Flyers acquire a young superstar.  Instead, Paul Holmgren rocked the floor when he traded away Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, two first-round draft picks and a conditional third-round draft pick in return for the Stanley Cup, Norris and Hart Trophy-winning, gritty defenseman, Chris Pronger and forward Ryan Dingle.
During the summer, the Flyers also acquired Ray Emery, Brian Boucher, Ian Laperriere and Blair Betts.  Flyers’ first-round pick in 2007, James van Riemsdyk, shocked fans when he made the team out of training camp.

The season started Oct. 2, 2009 when the Flyers faced off against the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals the year before.  Fans rejoiced when the Flyers went on a 3-0 tear in the beginning.  They finished October 6-4-1.

But then November hit and the Flyers’ trip out west started what would become a downward spiral.  The team finished the month with seven wins and six losses and carried a 13-10-1 record.

It was revealed shortly after that Emery had a torn muscle in his abdomen.  He was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 8 and Boucher became the new starter.  To fill in as a backup, the Flyers claimed journeyman Michael Leighton off of waivers from the Hurricanes.

After back-to-back shutouts by the Atlanta Thrashers and Vancouver Canucks, Holmgren fired head coach John Stevens on Dec. 4 and hired former Hurricanes head coach, Peter Laviolette.

The Flyers continued the losing trend, going 2-7-1 after Laviolette took over.  At one point in December, the Flyers fell to 14th in the Eastern Conference and 29th overall in the league.

With things already looking bleak, Boucher suffered an injury to his hand Dec. 21 and the starting role was passed to Leighton.

Leighton seized the opportunity and went on a remarkable run, posting a 16-5-2 record with one shutout and a 2.48 goals-against average and .918 save-percentage.

Amidst the run, the Flyers participated in the 2010 Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass.  Though they lost in overtime, 2-1, the Flyers played a great game against the Bruins and all the players agreed that it was a special moment none of them would ever forget, fans included.

The Flyers finished the last week before the Olympic break on a high note, winning the last four games against the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens.

After the break, the Flyers struggled, going 4-3-2 until March 16, when Leighton went down with a high-ankle sprain in Nashville, Tenn.  The Flyers were once again forced to call upon a different goalie, returning to Boucher to keep their playoff dreams alive.

The Flyers finished 4-7-1 before the last game of the season.  On the last game, the Flyers were forced to win-or-go-home against the New York Rangers.  Whoever won the game would claim the final playoff spot.

To add to the dramatics, the game went into a shootout.  Danny Briere and Claude Giroux scored while Boucher was able to stop two of the three shooters, sending the fans into a frenzy and the Flyers into the playoffs.

*  *  *  *

The Flyers, as the seventh seed, faced the No.2-seeded Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.  The Flyers were able to continue their dominance over them, becoming the first team out of the first round after taking the Devils out in five games.  It came at a price, though.  Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne were lost after Game 4, suffering a broken foot and a broken toe, respectively.  In Game 5, Laperriere threw himself in front of a Paul Martin shot and took the puck to the face, right above his right eye.  Laperriere was determined to have suffered a broken orbital bone and brain contusion.

The Flyers then took on the No. 6-seeded Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  After two close games and a loss at home, the Flyers fell behind 0-3 in the series.  Facing elimination, Gagne returned and made an immediate impact, scoring the overtime game-winning goal to stave off the inevitable one more night.

In Game 5, Ryan Parent fell onto Boucher, spraining both of the goalie’s knees.  Leighton, his first night back from injury, was back between the pipes.  Winning Games 5 and 6, the Flyers pushed the Bruins to a Game 7.

Game 7 saw the Flyers fall behind 3-0 in the first period, but a goal by van Riemsdyk started in motion the improbable comeback.  Scott Hartnell and Briere scored in the second, and on a power play in the third period, Gagne scored the eventual game winner.  The Flyers made history, becoming only the third team in NHL history to come back from a 0-3 series deficit and win.

The Eastern Conference Finals matched the No. 7 Flyers against the No. 8 Canadiens, something that has never happened before.  The Flyers handled the Canadiens with no problem.  Leighton continued his run, recording three shutouts in the series and only one loss.  Carter and Laperriere made triumphant returns.  The Flyers won the series in five games and were headed to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997.

Boucher returned for Game 1 as backup to Leighton.  For the first time, the Flyers looked to be the healthiest it had been all season.  But it would prove to not be enough.  After losing Games 1 and 2 on the road, the Flyers returned home to a raucous and record-breaking crowds at the Wachovia Center.  The fans fueled the team to take Games 3 and 4 and tie the series back up.  But the Blackhawks proved to be too much in Game 5 and although they battled back in Game 6, the Flyers fell on home ice after Kane scored the overtime Cup-clinching goal.

The fairytale ended just two wins shy of the Stanley Cup.

*  *  *  *

Some highlights from the playoff run:

Ville Leino emerged as an offensive threat in the playoffs.  He ended the postseason with 21 points (7 goals, 14 assists) and tied the single-season playoff record for points by a rookie in the NHL.

Danny Briere had the best playoffs of his career.  He ended with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists), the most by any player in the 2010 playoffs.  He also broke the single-season playoff record for points by a Flyer.

Chris Pronger tied the single-season playoff record for most points for a defenseman by a Flyer with 18 points (4 goals, 14 assists).

Mike Richards proved the doubters wrong.  He was a force to be reckoned with through the playoffs, proving his grit and character.  He showed he is the captain of the team, and will always be as long as he is a Flyer.

Claude Giroux once again stepped up big in the playoffs.  He showed up at crucial moments throughout the run and finished with 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists).

*  *  *  *

So you still want some “what ifs?”  What if the Flyers didn’t win in a shootout to make the playoffs?  What if Simon Gagne didn’t return?  What if the Flyers didn’t believe they could make history?  What if the Flyers just gave up?

As much as it stings, this team doesn’t deserve to face the “what if” questions.  They deserve to be remembered as the team that wouldn’t go away.  They were the team that never gave up, no matter what adversity faced them.  They were relentless.  From shootout in Game 82 to the Stanley Cup Finals, this team never ceased to amaze.  Be proud, Philadelphia.  Be proud, Flyers.  You deserve to hold your heads high.

To wrap up this season, all I can offer is a thank you.  Thank you to the fans for standing by the team through the roller coaster season.  And thank you to the Flyers.  Thank you for the most amazing and historical playoff run the city of Philadelphia has ever seen.  We could not be more proud to call ourselves Flyers fans.

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Categories: Ice Hockey, NHL, Sports

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