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Flyers face yet another uphill climb vs. Hawks

NHL.com @NHL

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Stop me if you've heard this before: the Philadelphia Flyers' Stanley Cup championship hopes are in big trouble.

Concern has again enveloped the growing legion of hockey fans who have embraced the orange and black during this most unexpected roller-coaster ride through the NHL playoffs. While the City of Brotherly Love - with its fatalistic attitude toward its sports teams - is worried as the Flyers return following a pair of road losses to the Chicago Blackhawks, there seems to be no reason to panic.

After all, this team has been down and nearly all the way out several times along the way and still managed to survive and advance. And Games 3 and 4 will be played Wednesday and Friday in Philadelphia, where the Flyers are 7-1 in these playoffs.

That's one of the only stats currently in the Flyers' favor.

"We're glad that we're back home now," forward Simon Gagne said Tuesday. "Sure, we're not really happy the way things went in Chicago. We're down 2-0.

"We've been there before. We've been down 2-0, even 3-0. So it's not like it's a new situation for us."

Like a Tony Gwynn or Don Mattingly, who always seemed comfortable at the plate with two strikes against them, the Flyers appear to thrive on the do-or-die pressure.

By now they are quite used to it. The Flyers, at least outwardly, show no signs of fear even though only two of 33 teams to lose the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals on the road have rallied to capture the championship. Chicago is also 7-1 away from home in the playoffs.

"The Blackhawks did what they were supposed to do and they defended home ice," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "Now it's up to us to do the same thing.

"Although many of you folk might not give us much of a chance, we're not too worried about what you guys think. We're worried about what we think in the locker room. We think we can win."

The Blackhawks came out on the short end after grabbing a 2-0 lead at home in 1971 against Montreal. Last year, Pittsburgh recovered from 2-0 and 3-2 holes to claim the Cup in a rematch with Detroit.

Before the Flyers could even dream about reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1997, they had to do away with the rival New York Rangers on the final weekend of the regular season. After losing the first half of the season-ending home-and-home series, Philadelphia and New York faced a win-or-go-home game.

It went to overtime and then to a shootout. Brian Boucher made the season-saving save and got the Flyers into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The sigh of relief that followed was hardly just for that day. It was the release of a season full of angst and frustration that featured a coaching change from John Stevens to Peter Laviolette and a recovery from a drop to 14th place in the 15-team conference.

Surely they'd exit the playoffs in short order, right? Think again.

Undeterred against the second-seeded New Jersey Devils, who own a star-laden roster, the now-relaxed Flyers ran through them in five games.

That was only the beginning.

Boston loomed next in the second round. While the Bruins certainly posed a threat, they also provided a manageable opponent. But before the Flyers knew what hit them, they had lost the first three games of the series and faced elimination again on home ice.

Philadelphia got through Game 4 on Gagne's goal in overtime (sure, why not) and then stunned the Bruins in Boston, even after losing Boucher to injury. Now it was getting interesting.

Even though only two NHL teams had previously recovered from a 3-0 hole to win a series, the Flyers gained momentum and made people believe that history was about to be made again. Another win at home set up Game 7 in Boston.

Suddenly, this comeback felt easy and almost assured, until Boston went ahead 3-0 in the first period of Game 7. It appeared the Flyers had finally run out of gas. Then came Laviolette's perfectly timed timeout, a second wind, and a much-needed goal that ignited the last of the comebacks and produced a 4-3 victory.

No rally was needed in the Eastern Conference finals for the Flyers, who took out Montreal in five games. Just like before their slow start in the Boston series, Philadelphia had a long break in advance of facing the Blackhawks.

Game 3 might just be where the Flyers find their legs and their mojo. Philadelphia can be bolstered by the fact it lost a pair of one-goal decisions that could have gone either way in Chicago - 6-5 and 2-1 - and didn't play poorly.

"We did a great job against Boston, just focusing on the one-game-at-a-time mentality and not look forward at the big picture," captain Mike Richards said. "Not too many people have done it, but not too many people have come back from 0-3, either.

"We're obviously a confident group. It's a situation that's familiar with us. It's unfortunate that we're in the situation, but ... we have to play the cards we're dealt right now and move on."

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