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Philadelphia Flyers, center, celebrate a goal by Arron Asham as Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban, left, and Hal Gill skate by in the second period of Game 5 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference finals, Monday, May 24, 2010, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Philadelphia Flyers, center, celebrate a goal by Arron Asham as Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban, left, and Hal Gill skate by in the second period of Game 5 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference finals, Monday, May 24, 2010, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Flyers eliminate Habs to move on to Stanley Cup final Add to ...

Perspective will come eventually, but for now there is only hurt and nagging thoughts of what might have been.

Coming into Monday night's Game 5 between the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers, the team that scored first won every contest; the Habs scored first, but Philly is the team going on to the Stanley Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks, the franchise's first shot at the championship since 1997.

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In a postseason with so much magic, the Habs couldn't conjure one last trick in losing 4-2 to the Flyers.

There are no moral victories in professional sports, but the Canadiens have come as close as anyone to claiming one.

Beyond the results and the short-term disappointment, they can persuasively argue they have rediscovered the elusive quality of championship teams, and one that long characterized this franchise: a refusal to roll over or be satisfied by any thing less than a Cup.

"You look at every movie - what would happen if Rocky lost at the end? It doesn't really matter unless you win. A Cinderalla story is what we wanted to do, and a Cinderella story doesn't matter if Cinderella doesn't pull it out," defenceman Hal Gill said.

Instead, the Flyers, who qualified for the playoffs on a final-day shootout win against the New York Rangers, and survived an 0-3 deficit against the Boston Bruins, carry the Cinderella mantle.

"All the French-Canadians, we had a little extra motivation playing against the Canadiens . . . it's an extra-special feeling," said Flyers centre Daniel Briere, who along with Franco-Ontarian Claude Giroux did the most offensive damage in a series where unheralded netminder Michael Leighton stepped to the fore.

"Everyone's dreamed of doing this their whole life and to get the opportunity to do it this year is great. It's a lot of hard work, and we're not done yet," said former Hab Arron Asham, who scored Philly's second goal.

That the Canadiens were able to make into the conference final for the first time in 17 years, after losing cornerstone defenceman Andrei Markov in Game 1 of the second round, is an achievement.

The lengthy goal-scoring droughts afflicting top-six forwards Scott Gomez (17 games), Andrei Kostitsyn (17), Benoit Pouliot (17), and Tomas Plekanec (13) merely make it more remarkable.

Much of the credit must of course go to goaltender Jaroslav Halak - whose luck seemed to run out against Philadelphia - and the impending restricted free agent has certainly improved his bargaining position.

Plaudits will also rain on free-agent acquisition Michael Cammalleri, whose 13 postseason goals revealed him to be a natural-born playoff performer.

"I wasn't ready for summer," a crestfallen Cammalleri said.

Then there is the manner of their losing.

Despite going down 3-1 Monday night after yielding two goals in a 1:24 spell in the second period - and a back-breaking short-handed goal to Flyer captain Mike Richards in the first - the Habs battled back to make it 3-2 through Gomez, and thanks to some sparkling goaltending from Halak.

Then Montreal had a four-minute power play when Philly's Chris Pronger caught rookie P.K. Subban with a high stick in the third, but couldn't cash in; Jeff Carter's empty-netter (and second of the game) settled the issue.

Contrast Montreal's determination with last season, where the Habs followed up a regular-season conference title the previous year with a four-game abdication to the Boston Bruins in the first round.

This year, the Canadiens once again crawled into the playoffs bedraggled and gasping, but they wouldn't go away against top-seeded Washington and defending champion Pittsburgh.

To fall just short of a Cup final grail nevertheless amounts to a towering achievement for a team that counts just 10 holdovers from last year on its 22-man playoff roster.

Former general manager Bob Gainey recently said that he saw flashes of the culture he'd sought to create by bringing in players like centre Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta - both grads of the New Jersey Devils championship teams - and fellow Stanley Cup champion Gill.

The flashes morphed into lasting images in the playoffs.

"They (Gainey and successor Pierre Gauthier) built this team around a bunch of guys who want to play for each other," said defenceman Josh Gorges, adding that "we learned a lot about each other . . . you've got to learn the feeling of losing and how much it really sucks if you want to get better."

 

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