Will it be the Flyers?


I haven't had much of a chance to think about sports, but I have had the inclination to consider who I think will win the Stanley Cup this year.

Philly.

That's probably too easy. I like the season that Chicago has had, and I am a Western conference sort of fellow, but Philly just seems inevitable. To come out of the east, where it was a tossup between Washington and Pittsburgh, and come out on top of that, well, that's a much steeper climb than Chicago had in the west, which wasn't very dominant this season.

A couple weeks later, what if Laviolette had decided to remain mum and let his team figure a way out of the mess in Game 7 against Boston? Instead he called what is being hailed as possibly the most important time-out in the Flyers' storied history, telling his players they had two choices. It was 3-0 Bruins in the first period, the ghosts of Eddie Shore and Dit Clapper ready to sing after Boston had supposedly recovered from choking a three-games-to-none series lead. The Flyers ended up winning that deciding game, 4-3, a stunning climax that resulted from a power play goal after the Bruins were whistled for having too many men on ice. History can be such a wicked witch.

"Lav told us if we scored the next goal, we'd win the game," Giroux says of that time-out pep talk. "His words might have been more colorful, but it was basically, 'Get your heads out of the clouds, stop feeling sorry for yourselves, and have some confidence.'"

What if Laviolette hadn't been hired to replace John Stevens in early December? What if Laviolette hadn't been fired as coach of the Hurricanes one year and one day earlier? What-ifs are for people who don't believe fate has at least a tiny voice in the way the universe unfolds.

"It is kind of surreal," Laviolette says. That appears to be the word of the day, the theme of the week, the mantra of the season for the Flyers.

"I've seen a lot but I'd be lying if I said I saw this coming," says Chris Pronger, the imposing forward who has developed a flair for raising the Stanley Cup.

"You can't make this stuff up," says Mike Richards, the Flyers' captain. "Everything has been unpredictable, beginning with the coaching change that (inspired) a change in the way we play. It wasn't until the Olympic break that we really felt comfortable with what he was trying to do."

Laviolette's career swing has taken one unusual twist after another. Never drafted, his 10 seasons as a stay-at-home defenseman in the minors were interrupted by a cup of mocha in New York, when the Rangers summoned him for 12 games. He played for and coached U.S. Olympic teams, endured two seasons as coach of the Islanders, won a championship in Carolina. Now it's his full-rink, exhale-when-it's-summer 60-minute press that has the Flyers giving the city of Philadelphia major flashbacks to the 70s.
Now that, my friends, is sports writing.

Philly in six. The cup will make it to Chicago here in the next few years, perhaps, but I think it goes to Philly now.
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