The Philadelphia Flyers are going to have a hard enough time watching the conference and Stanley Cup finals. Flyers fans like myself already have to live with seeing the New Jersey Devils in the conference finals in our place. Seeing the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings in the Western finals isn't too reassuring either - and on May 12, the New York Rangers completed the perfect storm by eliminating the Washington Capitals and completing this brutal NHL Final Four.
Every single team left in the Stanley Cup playoffs has benefited big time from the Flyers this season - yet Philadelphia is staying home. No matter what happens or who wins the Stanley Cup, the Flyers will have their own disappointment rubbed in big time by the winner.
The Devils are in the conference finals because the Flyers chose the wrong time to completely and utterly collapse. Thanks to Philadelphia running out of steam and not getting any offensive traction, New Jersey turned its rivals into mince meat in round two. And now the Devils will get to face their other arch-rivals for the right to reach another Stanley Cup final.
The Rangers are in the conference finals because they swept the Flyers in the regular season. Without those six straight wins over Philadelphia, New York might not have been the top seed in the East - which has paid off big time so far.
Because of their home ice advantage, the Rangers have gotten to play two straight Game 7's in New York and won them both, and will keep that home ice for the rest of the postseason. But if the Flyers had just won a couple of times over the Rangers, it might have been another matter.
Meanwhile in the West, the Coyotes are in the conference finals because they let the Flyers take Ilya Bryzgalov away. Losing Bryzgalov was supposed to destroy Phoenix and boost Philadelphia to glory, yet it has been the other way around.
For all his supposed power, Bryzgalov never made the Coyotes into real contenders - but Mike Smith has done so in his first opportunity. Now Bryzgalov's replacement has become a new star in the postseason and taken the Coyotes to unprecedented heights, while his predecessor is public enemy No. 1 in Philadelphia.
Finally, the Kings are in the conference finals in part because of former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Philadelphia traded Richards to Los Angeles in the summer to help clear cap room for Bryzgalov, then sent Carter to Columbus in good measure.
Yet after difficult regular seasons, Richards has awoken in the playoffs and Carter has found his game again after being traded to Los Angeles as well. Now the Flyers' two old stars could wind up lifting the Stanley Cup while Philadelphia is left empty once again.
The Coyotes and Kings are getting the last laugh after last summer's big moves, while the Rangers and Devils are joining them because they dominated the Flyers at various points. The entire NHL final four seems to have been designed to make the Flyers miserable, as if losing in the second round wasn't bad enough on its own.
Four teams that built their success in part because of Philadelphia are left to battle for the Stanley Cup. And no matter what, the champion will have the Flyers to thank in some fashion, as Philadelphia's own Cup drought goes up to 37 years and counting. But the Flyers seem to have much less trouble helping someone else win it all.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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