Think, if you can, back to February 24. The Sixers were rising in the standings, and the Phillies were soaking up the sun in Clearwater, but the Flyers were the toast of the town. Andrej Meszaros had just lifted the orange and black past the Islanders in overtime, and with three quarters of the season completed, the club held a nine point lead in the Eastern Conference.
Might as well have been a whole other team. From that point on, the Flyers have been falling like a meteor, and it's oh-so-close to impact.
They finished the regular season 7-8-6, losing their top playoff seeding in the process, and very nearly the Atlantic Division too. "Don't panic, they'll turn it on," many of us argued, perhaps trying to convince ourselves. And they did... sort of. Let's face it, even though they overwhelmed the Buffalo Sabres for long stretches at a time, the Flyers barely escaped Round 1 with a 4-3 series win. "They dominated the final three games though. They're ready now."
Only they weren't ready, and now we have to act all shocked and what not because their season could be coming to an end tonight.
It's one of the worst feelings you can have watching sports. This isn't a case where the Flyers are just plain overmatched, at least not on paper. Nor did they simply run into a hot goalie, which is not to say Tim Thomas has been anything other than just that, but he's not stealing this series right now. The Flyers aren't lucky to be here, haven't been completely ravaged by injuries, and aren't on the wrong end of a bunch of bad bounces or poor officiating.
They are, and have been, collapsing before our eyes. Worse, nobody can really explain why. It's Chris Pronger's injury. It's the Kris Versteeg trade. It's the lack of a true number one goaltender. It's because this team has no heart. It's everything. It's nothing.
I don't know what's going to happen tonight. My fear is the Flyers are headed for sweep-land. Games 1 and 3 were absolutely brutal, and if it weren't for two quick goals in Game 2, maybe that wouldn't have been any different either. As it is, that's the only time I can remember being excited during this series, the 10 minutes or so that they actually held a lead through those first 180.
Even if they win tonight, then the question becomes whether it merely prolongs the inevitable. Everybody remembers what happened last year, including the Bruins. Does anyone honestly believe it can happen again? Not just based on the historical nature of such an accomplishment, but going solely on the way they've played in this series.
I'll come out and say it--if you believe that, you're stronger than I am. Me, I can't stop thinking about the slow, painful way the Flyers appear to be closing out this season.
Still, here's hoping they don't let the Bruins finish them quick and easy.