Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Memorable Sport

I digress.

Conventional wisdom has maintained all along that were the Flyers to fail to reach the Stanley Cup Finals all the heroics of this post-season, beginning with winning the shootout on the final play of the final game of the regular season, would fade in time.

Now that the Fly boys have reached the Finals conventional wisdom no doubt will stick by the same premise.

So much for conventional wisdom.

Memories of great sporting events belong to those who witnessed them. Though individual efforts or moments can and frequently do fade with time, a protracted series of events tend to remain indelible in the minds' eyes of the beholders.

This playoff run by the Flyers will certainly qualify.

Prior to the start of the season the Flyers were considered Cup contenders. They weren't the first choice of the pundits, but they were given a shot. As the season wore on their chances dimmed considerably. The new goalie was often injured and when healthy a bust. (Has his name even been mentioned in the last two months with the remarkable runs of Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton?) The coach was fired in mid-season. His replacement began inauspiciously to say the least. And then there were the injuries that piled up, taking out key players at key times.

The Flyers began the playoffs by literally and figuratively limping across the finish line. They beat old nemesis New Jersey in the first round, besting one of the great albeit slightly fading goalies of this or any era, Martin Brodeur. They dug the deepest hole imaginable against Boston and climbed out it...twice! Prior to the series could anyone but the most hardcore hockey fan name the other two teams that had come back from 3-0 deficits?

Against all odds, some of their key injured players managed to come back late in playoffs. At least two of them, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter, were returning from serious foot and ankle injuries, not the easiest kind of injury to come back from if you happen to make your living skating. The other key injured player to return, Ian Laperriere, just happen to do so from a horrendous head injury. No one was surprised when he returned. Players who give up their bodies all the time don't let concussions, brain contusions and 70 stitches around the eye stop them.

And then there was the goalie situation. Brian Boucher, playing like he'd been reincarnated as a younger, nimbler goalie, got them as far as the middle of the Bruins series and then had to come out in the middle of a game. Michael Leighton, a journeyman goalie himself coming back from injury, stepped in, finished off a win and then went on to throw three shutouts in the five games against Montreal.

Meanwhile, captain Mike Richards, a man of few public words (or private ones if stories are to be believed) stepped up his game and leadership capping the series against Montreal with one of the greatest shorthand goals of this or any other era.

So, the Flyers have reached the Finals where they are again underdogs to a tough, talented, speedy Blackhawks team even hungrier for the Cup than they are. It is tempting to say the Flyers have Chicago right where they want them, but that might be a cliche. No matter what the outcome, this has been memorable hockey. Heck, this has been memorable sport. Nothing can or will take that away, especially from the legions of Flyers' fans who watched it happen.

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