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Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read, from left, react on the bench after the Flyers' 3-1 loss in Game 5 of a second-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series against the New Jersey Devils (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)
Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read, from left, react on the bench after the Flyers' 3-1 loss in Game 5 of a second-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series against the New Jersey Devils (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

The fall of the Flyers: What happened? Add to ...

They stormed through the first round, dumping the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games while putting a ridiculous 28 goals past their beleaguered goalies.

And when the Philadelphia Flyers drew the sixth seeded New Jersey Devils in Round 2, many thought it would be a cakewalk for a team that was pegged as the new Stanley Cup favourite.

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So much for that.

No, the Flyers are yet another pundit pick that falls by the wayside, with New Jersey eliminating them on Tuesday night in just five games. Philadelphia wasn't just beaten either – it wasn't particularly close, as they were outcoached, outworked and outgoaltended (to invent a word) by none other than a 40-year-old Martin Brodeur.

Was this a case of the Flyers being overrated or the Devils underrated here?

You can make a good argument for a little of both.

The biggest concern coming into this series from a Philadephia perspective was Ilya Bryzgalov, who was wholly uneven against Pittsburgh but managed to be a relative non-factor (until Tuesday's embarrassing gaffe that put the winner in his own net) against the Devils.

Instead, it was a relentless forecheck by the Devils forwards and defensive effort from the unheralded blueline (with a top four of Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, Marek Zidlicky and Mark Fayne) that proved the difference, with goaltending not playing a particularly large role in their win.

Add in a terrific series for Ilya Kovalchuk, who missed Game 2 with a back injury but still had seven points in the remaining four games, and a rookie-filled Flyers team didn't have a lot of answers for what was coming at them.

(New Jersey is the oldest team in the league this season and that may have been one reason why they seemed so organized and unflappable throughout the series.)

We've seen so many teams in these playoffs advance because they put together a performance that relies on a team game and playing as more than the sum of their parts, and that's what we saw in the Devils here, with 11 different players getting goals and only the fourth line not registering a point among the forwards.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, looked very much like a team playing without its captain (as Chris Pronger's career remains in doubt due to a concussion), with a blueline so thin coach Peter Laviolette didn't want to turn to his third pairing all that often (hello Andreas Lilja) and a top duo that was worn down over the series.

It was also a very quiet five games for Jaromir Jagr, Sean Couturier and Matt Read, among others, robbing the Flyers of the offensive depth that made them so difficult to deal with in Round 1 and often throughout the season.

The bitterest pill for GM Paul Holmgren and Co. will now be watching both the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes play on in the Western Conference.

The Kings have two controversial ex-Flyers in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter playing a starring role on the same line less than a year after Holmgren shipped both out to make way for Bryzgalov's humongous big contract.

And the Coyotes are just fine thank you minus said goaltender's contributions, as they plucked Mike Smith out of the free agent bargain bin (a two-year deal for $2-million a season) and watched as he put together an MVP campaign that hasn't abated in these playoffs.

A look at what could have been for the Flyers? Sure.

And a warning sign about the dangers of betting big (to the tune of $51-million) on a goalie when the position is so wholly unpredictable that new stars rise (and fall) every season.

Perhaps that's the lesson Philadelphia can take out of all this, even if they're still saddled with another eight years of Bryzgalov's contract that will be all but unmovable until he can singlehandedly win them a few games the way a nearly $6-million goalie should.

All that said, this remains a deep team, one that will have Pronger's salary to dole out to another body to help them improve next season. Reworking the blueline will be Project A for Holmgren, as they were throughly outplayed by the Devils no name crew.

The organization's two main unrestricted free agents in Jagr and Matt Carle could both be moving on as well, adding a couple more holes to consider.

Elsewhere on the roster, this team is still so young up front that there's plenty of room for optimism – and perhaps this series has provided them with a lesson on how long a battle the NHL playoffs really are.

That, however, will be little consolation if Richards and Carter are lifting the Stanley Cup in Kings colours a month from now.

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