The Philadelphia Flyers paid that exorbitant toll in countless ways Monday night as they ended a 13-year drought between Stanley Cup Final appearances with a gritty Game 5 win against the Montreal Canadiens.
MORE: HABS SHOCKED | RICHARDS UP FRONT
The 4-2 victory at the Wachovia Center came about because the Flyers were willing to pay any price to assure a date with the Western Conference's Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, a series that begins Saturday in Chicago.
"You put your body on the line, whether it's finishing hits, blocking shots, and we've done a great job of that so far in this playoffs, and I think it's shown with the victories," Flyers captain Mike Richards said, moments after he grabbed the Prince of Wales Trophy from Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and hightailed it to a jubilant Philadelphia dressing room.
Richards, more than anyone, threw his body into harm's way all night; but never more so than on the goal that tied the game at 1-all and erased the Montreal lead created by Brian Gionta in the game's first minute -- a goal that threatened to put Philadelphia back on its heels as in a demoralizing Game 3 loss.
Richards refused to let that happen, turning a dangerous penalty-kill situation into a back-breaking goal from which the Canadiens could not recover.
Richards got a step on Roman Hamrlik in an effort to chase down a hopeful clearing pass by Claude Giroux, which forced a desperate attempt by Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak to play the puck at the top of the faceoff circle to his left.
Amazingly, all three players arrived at the puck at the same time in a startling collision that sent the puck further toward the Montreal goal. Richards somehow picked himself up, claimed the loose puck and deposited it in the vacant net before anyone else on the ice could react.
"Well, that's why he's our leader," said veteran defenseman Chris Pronger, who played more than 27 minutes and blocked three shots to pay his part of the dues. "It's that determination and that grit. You know, diving head-first for the puck and being the first one up after a big collision like that to try to get free to the loose puck and put it in the empty net."
Before it was over, Richards would set up a pair of goals by Jeff Carter to close out the game and have his teammates in a state of awe.
"He leads by example," said grinding forward Ian Laperriere, who blocked two shots despite having to wear a full cage to protect his head after suffering a brain contusion while blocking a shot in the first round. "Tonight was another example; he went through everybody. I've played with great players and he's got that in him -- greatness."
On the game-winner, 4:31 into the second period, Carter set up behind the goal line and pushed a pass from Kimmo Timonen into the slot, where Carter could one-time it past Halak.
Then, in the game's final minute, with Halak on the bench for an extra skater, Richards refused to give up on a puck heading toward the empty net. He fought off a back-check attempt from Tomas Plekanec to leave the puck for Carter, who dumped it under Josh Gorges and into the goalie-less net.
Did we mention Carter was playing on a foot that was broken a little more than a month ago and that he is still walking around with a pronounced limp?
Or that Arron Asham, the man that scored the goal that made it 2-1 in the second period, was one of the most dominant players on the ice -- despite playing just eight minutes -- in getting four primo scoring chances before finally beating Halak with a roof shot right on the goalie's doorstep?
How about Timonen, a smallish defenseman not known for his physical contributions? He blocked six shots and was the target of several checks from Montreal players during his 27 minutes on the ice. Still, he found time to assist on carter's game-winning goal.
And, that is just what the Flyers did all night Monday and throughout this five-game domination of the Cinderella Canadiens, who had showed their own grit and determination in knocking off top-seeded Washington and Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup champion.
Montreal had already erased series deficits of 3-1 and 3-2 in the past two rounds, but could not find an answer for Philadelphia's relentless pressure or the brilliant goaltending of Michael Leighton, who stopped 95 of 102 shots in this series.
"I thought they did a good job playing a disciplined style, very disciplined game plan and I thought we didn't do as good of a job at that and our execution was not were it needed to be to challenge them a little more that way," said Michael Cammalleri, Montreal's most dangerous offensive weapon this postseason. "So hats off to them for playing as well as they did."
Pronger also believed it was Philadelphia's discipline and willingness to pay the hefty price that delivered them to the championship round.
"We've always believed in the system and our players and what we're doing on the ice. It's just a matter of us getting into that rhythm and buying into the system," he said. "(It's) guys blocking shots and doing all the little things … that make up a lot of the little battles during the course of the game to win the war. We've done a very good job thus far of that."
Shift of the game: A dozen games ago, Flyers forward Ian Laperriere threw himself to the ice to block a shot by Devils defenseman Paul Martin and received a brain contusion and close to 70 stitches for his efforts. Monday night, in just his second game back from that career-threatening injury, Laperriere threw himself to the ice in a similar manner to block a shot from Canadiens defenseman PK Subban early in the second period. Less than a minute later, Aaron Asham scored a goal to give the Flyers their first lead at 2-1.