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Flyers have plenty to feel good about for the future @NHLdotcom

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Make it 25 years and counting without a championship in Philadelphia.

The Flyers were the latest team to skate away without a title, making the city's big four sports teams 0-for-25 since the 76ers last won a championship in 1983 and celebrated with a parade down Broad Street. The Flyers extended their personal Stanley Cup drought to 33 years - nothing since back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975.

The only cup the Flyers will drink out of in June might come with a fancy umbrella at some swanky vacation resort.

Given the state of the four franchises, which also include the Phillies and the Eagles, the Flyers could be considered top contenders to snap the miserable skid. Yes, their season ended Sunday in a huge thud with their 6-0 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. But the stunning turnaround from worst team in the NHL last season to conference finalists this year has the Flyers flying high about their future.

"We'll remember all the good things we did, the fact that nobody gave us a chance to even make the playoffs at the beginning of the year," center Danny Briere said. "Hopefully, we were able to gain that experience that's going to make us even better next year. I think we took a step in the right direction, but right now it's kind of tough to look at the big picture."

The postseason experience, which included series wins over the Washington Capitals and the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens, could be invaluable for a roster loaded with players that made their playoff debuts or earned their first real taste of serious playoff minutes. If goalie Martin Biron consistently performs well next season like he did in the first two rounds, the Flyers could legitimately expect to contend for the Cup.

"We've seen all year, this team has the ingredients in place," Biron said. "I could see it last summer, where they were positioning themselves (to) move ahead for the future."

General manager Paul Holmgren made all the right moves last year that made sure the Flyers stay at the bottom of the league would be a brief one. Briere signed a free-agent deal, and Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith were acquired in trades. They all played pivotal roles in Philadelphia's 42-29-11 (95 points) season that earned them the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Flyers were the first team to reach the conference finals a year after posting the worst record since the Red Wings in 1987.

Now it's up to Holmgren to decide who will return.

R.J. Umberger, who scored eight goals against the Canadiens, Jeff Carter and Randy Jones are the three key restricted free agents. Holmgren needs to find salary cap space to keep the trio. Umberger, and especially Carter, are likely possibilities to be offered big contracts elsewhere. Holmgren has said he'd do all he could to keep Carter.

The Flyers probably won't bring back unrestricted free agents Jason Smith and Vaclav Prospal. Smith was team captain, but that seems like a one-and-done situation. Mike Richards appears next in line for the "C."

The Flyers might not have made the playoffs without Prospal. He was acquired in a trade deadline deal and instantly clicked with Briere. Their line was huge down the stretch and Briere had an outstanding first-round series.

Prospal, though, disappeared in the postseason and scored only one goal in the last 16 playoff games after he recorded two goals in Game 1 against Washington.

"Hopefully we can keep as many guys as possible," Timonen said.

Biron has one year left on his contract and might talk about an extension with the Flyers.

The Flyers could also decide to reward coach John Stevens with an extension. Stevens never panicked or wavered in his approach even as the Flyers midseason stumble nearly bumped them out of the playoff picture. The Flyers were riddled with injuries, most notably concussed forward Simon Gagne, but Stevens always kept cool.

In two seasons, Stevens has the worst single-season record in team history and a conference finals berth on his resume. But neither side wants to enter next season with Stevens on the last year of his contract.

"We've made tremendous strides this year, and we've come an awful long way," Stevens said. "And if you look back, we played the one, two, three seeds in the East in the playoffs and I thought we did a remarkable job."

No doubt, this was a season to remember for the Flyers.

But it still ends with the stinging realization that no championship banner will fly from the rafters. And the defeats go on.

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