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Mike Richards #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on before taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Two of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on May 31, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Mike Richards #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on before taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Two of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on May 31, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Flyers have been down this road before Add to ...

As with governments everywhere, deficits are nothing new to the Philadelphia Flyers in these Stanley Cup playoffs. Just three weeks ago, the resilient Flyers were down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals to the Boston Bruins, only to mount a comeback for the ages to win four in a row and live to play another day.

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Accordingly, the Chicago Blackhawks' commanding 2-0 advantage over the Flyers heading into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final on Wednesday does not represent an insurmountable hurdle in their minds.

That was Tuesday's message, repeated over and over, by players and coaches alike: It's been done before; ergo, it can be done again.

"What I like about our team is the way we respond when we put our backs to the wall," Flyers centre Daniel Brière said. "We've answered the bell before. We think we can do it again."

For further proof that anything can happen, the Flyers cited their archrivals in the Battle of Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were in similar dire straits just a year ago, down 2-0 to the defending champion Detroit Red Wings. Most everyone was ready to heap dirt on the Penguins' grave and pen the obituary. Instead, Pittsburgh won two at home, squared the series and eventually triumphed in seven heart-stopping games.

So what if that's only happened twice in 31 previous times during a Stanley Cup final.

According to coach Peter Laviolette, no one should doubt the Flyers' capacity to do the unexpected, and win when the odds seem long.

Laviolette actually outperformed Pronger as the star of the Flyers' off-day show, no mean feat, considering how the 6-foot-6 defenceman has dominated the podium as much as he has the play on the ice, where the players facing Pronger - Chicago's No. 1 line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien - have had a negligible impact on the series.

Alternately, dour, sour and tightlipped for the early part of the series, Laviolette came out firing in what sounded like a deliberate and uncharacteristically combative way yesterday, on the off-day between games. If the point was to stoke the fires under his team, Laviolette did his part.

"The place we didn't win was on the scoreboard," said Laviolette, who suggested the Flyers held a 2-1 edge in quality scoring chances in Game 2 and just couldn't put the puck in the net. "So frustrated? Yeah. Irritated? Definitely. And anxious for [Wednesday] Can't wait.

"I don't think you get to this point in the season, where you're 29th at Christmas and not be able to overcome adversity. We did it all year, at the end of the year, in the first round, without players. I'm 100-per-cent confident that this team is capable."

In many respects, the Flyers are dealing with the same conundrum that faced the San Jose Sharks in the last round. The Sharks were competitive in every game, the better team for long periods of time. But when all was said and done, they were swept in four games.

It left San Jose puzzled, trying to determine what exactly happened. Chicago has an underrated quick-strike ability, a part of their attack usually mentioned just in passing that has been the deciding factor since the Vancouver Canucks series.

Theories about what the Flyers needed to do better were abundant on Tuesday, while answers were in short supply. The Flyers cited history (their ability to come back in previous rounds); geography (a return to the Wachovia Center, where they are 7-1 in these playoffs); and all manner of other factors to rationalize why it is premature to write them off just yet.

"The Blackhawks did what they were supposed to do; they defended home ice," Pronger said. "Now it's up to us to do the same thing. While there may be many of you folks who may not give us much of a chance, we're not too worried about what you guys think. We're worried about what we think in the locker room - and we think we can win."

Laviolette received some criticism for having his third defensive pair on the ice for the go-ahead Blackhawks goal the other night. His response was blunt: "We can't keep playing Chris Pronger 33 minutes every night. We're going to wear him out."

So far, that hasn't happened. Pronger generally laughs off suggestions that he might be getting fatigued, although it is indisputable that he plays hard minutes against the opposition's top stars, who have thus far been wholly contained in the series.

It was the Blackhawks' secondary scorers, taking advantage of the Flyers' third-line pair, who broke open the second game.

The Flyers didn't practise yesterday. Instead, they spent most of an hour in meetings, preparations described by Brière as more motivational than tactical. There is little doubt about Philadelphia's will at this juncture. You do wonder how many storybook endings or Houdini-like escapes can occur before the fates intervene and say enough to their postseason karma.

The answers will largely come in Wednesday's swing game, the one that will determine if we have a series in the 2010 final - or a coronation.

 

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