The Philadelphia Flyers have been facing adversity and big challenges all season. In fact, Flyers fans like myself can't recall when they didn't have to rally from deficits or major obstacles. Nothing has come easy for Philadelphia - which perhaps makes it fitting that things are finally getting harder against the Pittsburgh Penguins after all.
Although winning the first three games over the Penguins wasn't easy, the series as a whole was starting to look that way. But after a 10-3 loss in Game 4 on April 18, the Flyers suddenly have all the pressure on them as they go back to their home away from home in Pittsburgh on April 20.
Philadelphia's nearly perfect record in Consol Energy Center, and its wins there in the first two games, are obvious things to take comfort in. But even when the Flyers won Games 1 and 2, it was relatively easy because the crushing expectations and fear wasn't on them. It was the Penguins who were the heavy favorites and expected Stanley Cup champions - at least until Philadelphia made them look like amateurs.
But now it is Pittsburgh who is playing with nothing to lose, at least by relative comparison. Of course, being eliminated in the first round will wreck the Penguins' reputation no matter how and when they do it. Yet as embarrassed as they were to fall down the way they did, the humiliation would be nothing compared to that of the Flyers if they lose this series. That is particularly true since Philadelphia, of all teams, knows better than to rest with a huge lead like this.
However, if the Flyers lose Game 5 and get halfway towards their own historic collapse, they will suddenly become underdogs all over again. Even returning home with a 3-2 lead in Game 6 wouldn't seem safe - especially if Ilya Bryzgalov and/or Sergei Bobrovsky get manhandled again. Plus despite losing so often to the Flyers at home, the Penguins would virtually erase that psychological hold by winning Game 5 - which would come in handy for a Game 7 at Pittsburgh.
With that reversal of momentum and our natural paranoia in Philadelphia, Game 6 would seem more like an elimination game for the Flyers than for the Penguins. In that scenario, the Flyers would have everything to lose - and with their dominance gone so suddenly, it will be that much harder to get it back.
But all of that will be mute if Philadelphia rises up to its first major challenge in Game 5, by finishing off Pittsburgh on its second try. If the Flyers don't do this, then there will be real reason to doubt that they ever will. Yet if they can, then the team and the city can relax and laugh off that 10-3 loss as nothing - aside from the Bryzgalov/Bobrovsky issues.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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