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Flyers are sure Final is going 7 games

by Shawn P. Roarke
PHILADELHIA --  If practice does indeed make perfect, expect the Philadelphia Flyers to have their best showing of the postseason in Wednesday night's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

For a team that seems to savor doing the near impossible, Game 6 is the perfect scenario for their brand of Houdini-like heroics.

The odds could not be longer for the Eastern Conference champions this time around.

Statistically, only six of the past 20 teams to lose Game 5 of a Stanley Cup Final have been able to win the final two games of the series to hoist the Cup.  But the sheer immensity of what faces the Flyers goes much deeper than a 70-percent failure rate.

First and foremost, the Stanley Cup will be in the Wachovia Center, its presence pushing the visitors to new heights. Lose Wednesday and the Flyers will have to watch the Blackhawks party like it's 1961 -- the last time the franchise hoisted the trophy.

Secondly, the Blackhawks played their best game of the series in Game 5, dominating in every aspect of the game in taking a 7-4 decision that wasn't even that close.

Finally, Philadelphia saw goalie Michael Leighton pulled for ineffectiveness after stopping just 10 of 13 shots in the first period, then saw top defenseman Chris Pronger go minus-5 and watched two players from its top line -- Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell -- leave the ice, if only temporarily, with injuries during Sunday night's game.

Yet the Flyers refuse to be intimidated by the enormity of situation they face. They have overcome the odds far too often in what has been a captivating, and often white-knuckled, march to this point.

"I think that when you get to this point, there's a tremendous amount of confidence in your team to win hockey games," coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday. "They get it and they understand it. If any team gets it, this team gets it, because we've been here so many times.

"Again, to have our back against the wall, we'll be comfortable with this tomorrow. I have no question that our team will respond in a manner in which it should so that we can be successful."

Ian Laperriere, desperate to win the first Cup of his 15-year career, says his teammates still believe.

"Why not?" he asked reporters when asked if the team believed it could engineer another escape. "Nobody (in here) is down. We didn't play the way we wanted in Chicago. We're in our barn now and we know how we play here. We're confident.

"They had one bad game here, we had one bad game there, and now they are back in our barn and let's win this one and worry about Game 7."

Fortunately, the Flyers have had some experience at following that seemingly simple formula, which historically is actually far more difficult to pull off than it seems.

After qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the final day of the regular season -- with a shootout victory, no less –- the Flyers, as everyone remembers, were in a 0-3 series hole against Boston in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before they roared back with four consecutive wins. The Game 7 victory came after Philadelphia allowed Boston to score the first three goals.

Let's not also forget that the Stanley Cup Playoffs were nothing but a flight of fancy for this team as recently as January. They were mired in the Eastern Conference basement and had to go on an epic hot streak just to make the season's final game meaningful.

That trial by fire -- playing so many must-win games -- has clearly forged this team's playoff identity.

"Every time it happens you just build confidence from knowing that you can trust the guys beside you because they're going to be ready and be there for you," Briere said after Tuesday's spirited practice. "It's the same approach we're going to face.

"I think that when you get to this point, there's a tremendous amount of confidence in your team to win hockey games.  They get it and they understand it. If any team gets it, this team gets it, because we've been here so many times."  -- Flyers coach Peter Laviolette
Game 5 maybe we sat back a little too much after … we knew we needed to win both games at home and we did that and we relaxed (thinking) momentum was just going to carry over. Now we have to come back home here and try to make it happen, get the momentum building once again."

Not only do the Flyers have experience with comebacks this year, but their coach has experience with virtually the same scenario Philadelphia now faces. While with Carolina in 2006, Laviolette's Carolina Hurricanes lost a Game 6 that would have delivered them the Cup. They played flat and uninspired and Edmonton handed them a beatdown to seize momentum heading back to Raleigh.

Laviolette admitted on Tuesday that he went back to the hotel room after the 2006 Game 6 and "almost threw up" because he was so nauseated by the opportunity his team had wasted.

Yet Laviolette somehow found a way to get his team regrouped and refocused and go out and win Game 7 –- and the Cup.

"Again, you have to make sure that you are ready for the next game, that you put this one behind you," Laviolette said, "because they're all separate. Just from my experience in 2006, we had a lousy game in (Game) 6. We had probably the best game of the year in Game 7."

Laviolette can only hope his personal history repeats itself Wednesday night in Game 6.

Certainly, the signs are all there.

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