Friday, May 21, 2004

Flyered Up | Brett Myers's dazzling shutout of the Dodgers yesterday was only the second-best performance of the night in South Philadelphia. At the Center, the Flyers, forechecking ferociously and playing to save their season, scored with less than two minutes to go in regulation to force overtime, then chipped in a goal toward the end of the first OT period to force game seven against Tampa Bay tomorrow night in the Eastern Conference finals.

Keith Primeau has put together a string of playoff games the likes of which I haven't seen in at least 10 years. His leadership and relentless style at both ends of the ice have kept the Flyers alive through a crippling string of injuries. For a change, it's not the big, bad Flyers who are playing down to the level of their competition; rather, this is an overachieving, gutty group of skaters using will and guile to keep up with a younger, faster opponent.

And the fans have noticed. "Middie Back!" ("If the Flyers eventually lose this series ... they can still hold their heads high") and There It Is ("I'm afraid I may be starting to believe in these guys") show the Fly Guys some appropriate love, while the Inquirer's Phil Sheridan writes today of character and determination:

... [I]t would have been easy to turn, but this crowd stayed as upbeat as it was orange.

Maybe that's because this team has done something the Flyers have seldom been able to do. They are seen as underdogs rather than underachievers. They have rallied around each other despite -- or because of -- injuries that have threatened their stars and decimated their defensive corps.

"I think the character of this team started forming when the injuries happened," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said.

This team has played hurt and played hard and played with heart, all of the things that Philadelphia values above even winning. That's why the crowd continually roared its approval through a score-or-say-goodbye third period.

Instead of expecting disappointment, the fans expected everything these Flyers had.

They got it, because that's just how this team plays.

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