The Philadelphia Flyers entered the 2009-10 NHL regular season with the loftiest of ambitions: winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 35 years. And they certainly appeared up to the monumental task, adding Chris Pronger to a defensive corps that already boasted Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. Up front was Mike Richards, their captain, 40-goal man Jeff Carter and valuable veteran Simon Gagne. And there was plenty of support, too, from Matt Carle's breakout on the blueline to gritty forwards such as Daniel Carcillo and Ian Laperriere, and even a promising rookie in James vanRiemsdyk.
The goaltending? Well, the Flyers rolled the dice on hot-headed Ray Emery, back in the big-time after a year of exile in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) - but it was Emery, after all, who backstopped Ottawa to the 2007 final. He had proven himself on the ice, even if he had a history of off-ice distractions. (Flyers supporters, of course, gleefully argued that made Emery a perfect fit for the Flyers' rambunctious ways).
Something happened, however.Instead of rumbling over opponents, the Flyers seemed to devolve into a bickering bunch. To make matters worse, Emery's season ended before the play-offs began, ruined by injuries. Rather than charging to the top of the Eastern Conference, the Flyers barely limped into the play-offs, having to win a shoot-out on the final day of the season to qualify. It was obvious they would not be long for the spring, not when fate handed them the post-season-proven New Jersey Devils, led by all-world goalie Martin Brodeur.
In Emery's absence, Philadelphia could only answer with career back-up Brian Boucher, a serviceable No 2 stopper, but a goalie who had not won a play-off game in 10 years. He was no match for Brodeur's 98 career play-off wins. So what happens? The Flyers lose top wingers Carter and Gagne midway through the series, and it does not matter a bit as they dispose of the Devils in five games to become the first team to advance to the second round. Boucher outplays Brodeur, the team come together and Pronger's presence casts a foreboding shadow on any side in the Flyers' path.
Suddenly, the Flyers are an imposing opponent again and an overdue date with Stanley does not sound so strange. email@example.com