Phil Sheridan: Flyers poised to join the Comeback Club

Posted: May 14, 2010

Fourth and 26.

Sounds crazy, but that's what came to mind as the Flyers stoically fought back from a deficit of three games to none against the Boston Bruins. A week ago, the Flyers faced circumstances very similar to those the Eagles faced in the fourth quarter of that playoff game against Green Bay in January 2004.

Situation hopeless, elimination inevitable, and then: deliverance. The word miracle is overused in sports, but there was a whiff of the divine when Freddie Mitchell caught that fourth-and-26 pass from Donovan McNabb.

But here's the real point: As amazing and unforgettable as fourth and 26 was, it ended up being wasted. Sure, the Eagles drove down and kicked a field goal to tie the Packers that day. And yes, Brian Dawkins intercepted Brett Favre to set up the game-winning field goal in overtime. It was one of the great dramatic days in Eagles history.

It all turned to ash a week later, when the Eagles performed dismally in a 14-3 NFC championship game loss to the Carolina Panthers.

So the Flyers deserve much credit and praise for staring down the barrel of 0-3, just as the Eagles didn't surrender on fourth and 26.

"History would say there's a natural tendency to quit," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said after Thursday's brief practice session. "History says it's tough. There's been a lot of work. They've played hard to get to this point. I think they earned this."

The Flyers have earned a chance to become just the fourth members of the Ultimate Comeback Club. But that's all it is until they do it. A chance.

"You don't want all that work to go away for nothing," Laviolette said. "You want to put your best foot forward in the game. . . . Anything short of moving on is unacceptable."

That conviction was handed out to the players along with the itinerary for this unexpected road trip.

"You take it all the way to Game 7, you don't want to lose that," Danny Briere said. "We want to get it done. Talk about making history. We all see the commercials that are going on with the NHL. This is our chance. If we win [Friday night], it will be pretty special. If we don't, it doesn't mean much."

"Our job's not done yet," rookie James van Riemsdyk said. "We're not going to be happy just getting here. We want to keep this season going and take Game 7."

There is tricky psychology involved. The Flyers don't want to waste the enormous effort they've put forth to beat the Bruins three games in a row. At the same time, that exceedingly rare achievement has taken a mental and physical toll on this team. It isn't easy to summon, again, the kind of focus and energy required to win a do-or-die game.

And then there are the Bruins, who had a chance to sweep the series with an overtime goal, then another chance to close the Flyers out in Boston on Monday. The Bruins threw a big punch in Game 6, against an inexperienced goalie, and couldn't score for 59 minutes.

The pressure on them is enormous. Will it harden their resolve or will they crumble?

"You look at Boston, blowing a 3-0 lead," Briere said. "Everybody feels it. They got booed out of their building last game. I expect them to come out with a lot of desperation, but there's also going to be extreme pressure on them to perform. They can't afford to make any mistakes because things can turn on them pretty quick."

Two of the three teams in the Ultimate Comeback Club - the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 2004 Boston Red Sox - won championships. The Leafs came back in the Stanley Cup final against Detroit. The Red Sox came back in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, then rode that wave to a World Series sweep of St. Louis.

The 1975 New York Islanders are celebrated for coming back from 0-3 to win a series, but they were eliminated in the next round (by the Flyers). Just like the Eagles of fourth and 26, they squandered a miracle.

Put another way, the Flyers' journey from 0-3 to 3-3 will be remembered a lot more fondly if it's part of a larger story.

"The end game to me is still that big silver shiny thing," Laviolette said. "Any time you can attach your name, as a group, to something in sports history, that's a positive thing. For me, I sure would like to be one of those final four teams."

They are one winnable game from the final four, one winnable series against Montreal from the Stanley Cup Finals. They got to this point in the toughest way imaginable, with great goals and mounting injuries and tons of grit.

It would be a shame to see all of that go for nothing, to go the way of fourth and 26.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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