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Stanley Cup set: Flyers finish off Canadiens, will face awaiting Blackhawks

Photo by Matt Slocum

Photo by Matt Slocum

PHILADELPHIA -- Mike Richards knows hockey tradition says don't hold a playoff trophy unless it's the Stanley Cup.

The Flyers don't care.

After all, the Flyers already accomplished so many feats not usually seen in the postseason. They rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to win, they kept on rolling when they switched goalies, and they did it all with top players injured.

So when nearly 20,000 giddy fans dressed in pumpkin-orange giveaway T-shirts chanted "Let's Go Flyers!" throughout the arena, Richards put his hands all over the Prince of Wales trophy and skated away -- and into the Stanley Cup finals.

Richards had a highlight-reel goal early, Arron Asham and Jeff Carter scored 84 seconds apart in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals and the Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 on Monday night.

The Philadelphia Flyers have rekindled some of their old "Broad Street Bullies" championship days and are back in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 13 years.

Richards held the trophy awarded to the conference champs.

"It was actually a little bit of a debate on the ice," he said. "I thought a little about it last night, and my first instinct was to grab it."

The Flyers, who needed a shootout win in the last game of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot, will play the Western Conference champion Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 on Saturday.

The Flyers have not won the Stanley Cup since consecutive titles in 1974 and 1975.

"This is one of the most, maybe the most exciting season ever since the first Stanley Cup," team chairman and founder Ed Snider said. "What these guys have done, what they've been through, I mean it's incredible."

Michael Leighton allowed a goal 59 seconds into the game to Brian Gionta, then shut down the Canadiens, who showed a resilient comeback spirit in the first two rounds.

"I was counting down the clock the last 2 minutes, I couldn't wait for it to wind down," Leighton said. "Last couple of minutes we did a great job."

Once Carter scored an empty-netter in the final minute, the crowd exploded in a championship frenzy.

The finals seem a fitting result for a Flyers organization that still has some of that ol' Bullies style in their bloodlines.

Forget dropping the gloves: This year's Flyers have shown an awesome ability to fight back on guts alone. Down 3-0 in the conference semifinals vs. Boston and trailing 3-0 in Game 7, the Flyers rallied to win in one of the sport's all-time great comebacks.

"We kept going and didn't quit. Down 0-3 we didn't quit all year that has been our motto. It feels good especially for the fans," Richards said. "It's been great so far. It's been great along the way. The journey hasn't ended. Hopefully we have a Cinderella story in the end, but we need to prepare for Chicago."

Carter, Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere all pushed through potential postseason-ending injuries to return earlier than expected and deliver a shot at the Stanley Cup to Philadelphia.

"It's a great feeling. We got a great team here, a great bunch of guys I'm proud of every one of them," Leighton said. "I said right from the beginning of the year, we just got to get in the playoffs and anything can happen."

Richards, their gritty gold medal-winning captain, scored a goal that will surely be shown over and over during the finals.

Playing short-handed and just trying to clear the puck from along the boards, Claude Giroux fired the puck about 175 feet down the ice and that sent Richards scrambling.

Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak, who finished with 22 saves, inexplicably skated toward the top of the circles to try and stop the puck. Richards dived head first and slid perfectly between Halak and Canadiens defenseman Roman Hamrlik. The puck squirted away from the crashing Canadiens, Richards sprang up from his belly and tapped it into an empty net to make it 1-1.

Asham and Carter built the lead from there and gave Leighton all the room he needed. Leighton made 25 saves.

Asham scored from close range 3:07 into the second and Carter, who made a quick return after breaking his right foot last month, quickly made it 3-1. Richards fed Carter a nice pass, and he fired on one knee to stun Halak.

The Flyers' run to the Cup finals has been solidified on second-period scoring. The Flyers outscored the opposition 26-7 in the middle period this postseason.

Down 3-1 in the series and 3-1 in the third, Montreal kept playing for one more comeback.

The Canadiens got in as the eighth seed and then knocked off Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington after falling behind 3-1 in the series. Montreal trailed Pittsburgh 3-2 before advancing past the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round.

"Later in the summer you might look back and say, 'Hey we did all right,' but right now it's a tough pill to swallow," Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill said.

Scott Gomez scored 6:53 into the third to give Montreal a sliver of hope. Not this time. Not against these Flyers.

"It was just one of those series. No one is going to run out of gas," Gomez said. "You're playing for the ultimate prize. You get to the ultimate prize, you're going. You never use that as an excuse. The Flyers played a great series. They got us."

NOTES: The Flyers are in their eighth Stanley Cup final. They have lost five straight series since winning consecutive titles in 1974 and 1975.