Philadelphia Flyers' Brayden Schenn (10), Matt Read (24), Jason Akeson (42) and Adam Hall (18) watch during the third period in Game 7 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers, Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in New York. The Rangers won the game 2-1. (AP Photo)
PHILADELPHIA - The Flyers turned the worst start in team history into a playoff berth. They forced Game 7 after a 3-2 series deficit.
The Flyers simply ran out of comebacks.
Just as it has in every season since winning it all in 1975, Philadelphia heads home without a Stanley Cup.
The New York Rangers eliminated the Flyers with a 2-1 win in Game 7 in the first round on Wednesday, extending their championship drought to 38 seasons, the sixth-longest streak in the NHL.
There was one sliver of consolation Thursday when team captain Claude Giroux was selected as a Hart Trophy finalist, the league's MVP award.
Giroux matched a career high with 28 goals and finished third in the NHL scoring race (86 points), helping the Flyers rally from a 3-9-0 start. He's the fifth Flyer to be a finalist, joining Bobby Clarke, Eric Lindros (who both won), and goalies Pelle Lindbergh and Bernie Parent.
Individual award nominations are nice, and this one was sweet for Giroux after Team Canada bypassed him for the Olympics. But they simply don't compare to the thrill of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
"We do have to be proud of what we did," Giroux said. "Last place and being able to come back and get everybody back on the same page. We had a lot of fun doing it. But right now, it stings a lot we can't be in the second round."
Giroux had his chance in 2010 when the Flyers reached Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. But since that tantalizing run, they've shown few signs of establishing themselves as a perennial contender.
As they rallied from the bottom of the East all the way to the playoffs, the Flyers found two key cogs to their future are already in place: Coach Craig Berube and goalie Steve Mason.
General manager Paul Holmgren made the right call when he fired Peter Laviolette after an 0-3 start and promoted the coach known as "Chief."
After a small adjustment period, he had the Flyers playing as one of the top teams in the conference, leading to a 42-30-10 (94 points) finish.
"We were stuck in a hole for a while and they battled out of it," Berube said. "They stuck together and went to a Game 7."
Mason, the NHL's rookie of the year in 2008-09, pushed aside the doubts that lingered from Columbus that he could become a No. 1 goalie and blossomed into their goalie of the future.
His mix of sensational saves and easygoing personality helped the Flyers start to erase the memories of Ilya Bryzgalov from their consciousness.
"This team's a lot of fun to play with and I'm looking forward to growing them in the future," Mason said.
Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek form a nice offensive nucleus. Veteran defenceman Kimmo Timonen may decide to retire, though of the rest of the D was a sore point for the Flyers, especially in the post-season when Mason faced tough shot after tough shot with little break.
The Flyers might not have made the playoffs without Mason. They might have beat the Rangers with even a solid defensive effort.
"At no given time were we feeling we were out of the series, or out of it this season, for that matter," Mason said.
This year, the Flyers celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Broad Street Bullies team that left a lasting mark on the league, but has done nothing to get them closer to holding that third championship parade down Philadelphia.
The Flyers haven't advanced past the second round since the surprising Stanley Cup finals run in 2010. But a year after missing the playoffs, the Flyers at least stabilized themselves and proved that an addition or two on the blue line can push them deeper into the post-season.
"Game 7. Lose 2-1. Can't get closer than that," Giroux said. "For a young team, I think it's great. It's only going to make us stronger."