In one bizarre moment, the ride was over.
Patrick Kane was sure of what he had just done, but nobody else in Wachovia Center or watching on millions of TV sets across North America was entirely sure what had just taken place. The puck that Kane had just shot seemingly vanished from the face of the earth.
When it reappeared, however, what had vanished was the Flyers
It wasn't supposed to end like this. Not after the roller coaster season that was. Not after the mid season free fall, the new coach, the new system, the rotating goalies, the shootout in Madison Square Garden, 3-0 in Boston
. This team could not have survived all of that to go down like this.
But one of the most implausible runs in Stanley Cup history ended on a goal that only one man saw.
The Flyers looked done headed into the third period last night. At least two national commentators said that the Flyers "were out of gas." Then came Scott Hartnell's rebound goal and the season was on again, albeit for a little while.
When the Flyers came out firing in the overtime period it seemed only a matter of time. The manner in which the third period ended screamed that the OT wasn't going to take long. Win or lose, this wasn't going to be night into early morning. With all of the orange sweaters flying around the Chicago
net Game 7 seemed this close.
Then Patrick Kane threw a harmless shot at Michael Leighton that ate him alive. Kane appeared to be looking for a rebound or deflection but what he got was a softie that will haunt Leighton for the rest of the season. While Flyer fans remember the waiver wire wonder who saved a season, the rest of the NHL
is going to define number 49 by that goal more than anything else.
This was supposed to be it for the Flyers. Finally a chance in the finals against a team of seemingly equal talent. A team that had obvious holes, a team that had shortcomings like everyone else and a team in Chicago that had no recent history of success in the finals to fall back on. In short this was a team for the taking.
What nobody had counted on, however, was that one of the Blackhawk holes wasn't as wide as the Flyers and their faithful had counted on. Antti Niemi wasn't the second coming of Ken Dryden but he was just enough at just the right moments. When his team absolutely had to have a big save he made it.
At the other end of the ice, Michael Leighton fell apart. Pulled in two games, he hung on long enough to get Game 6 to overtime before surrendering a truly awful short side, five hole Cup winning goal. Not since Tony Esposito gave up a Cup winner from the wrong since of the blue line in 1971 had the series winner been so bad.
Something else cropped up on the Flyers that has been a team problem for a couple of seasons now. Once Joel Quenneville flipped his lines before the third period of Game 4, the Blackhawks finally found the space in the neutral zone to exploit their team speed. Once that happened and they were able to dump the puck behind the slower Flyer defense the whole series turned.
Unexpected victory is the sweetest kind and for the better part of the last two months it appeared that 2009-2010 would end with a taste of champagne. But defeat always has a bitter after taste, one that lasts an entire off season.
The Flyers and their faithful have a restless summer ahead and in the world of the salary cap no assurances of what the future might bring.