It's okay, really. No one did. Is it possible there has ever been another pair of teams that absorbed as much booing during the maddening regular season and ended up in the league's Final Four?
The Eastern Conference Final between the Flyers and Canadiens, beginning in Philadelphia on Sunday night, is a fascinating study on many levels. But here's the most intriguing storyline: now that the Canadiens have completed the Cinderella portion of the playoffs, the franchise will forever look back with regret if the Habs fail to beat the Flyers. Equally, now that the Flyers have made history by overcoming a 3-0 series deficit to Boston, Philadelphia expects to play for the Stanley Cup in two weeks.
Just like that, one of these inspirational teams is headed for deep disappointment.
Which will it be? Keeping my promise to Roman Hamrlik, my hunch tells me this is the end for Montreal. Of the two teams facing pressure, the Canadiens are under the most intense scrutiny. Sure, Habs fans will still love them the morning after -- Montreal's victories over Washington and Pittsburgh will go down in franchise history, no matter how this ends -- but true believers are convinced 2010 in the new 1993. It's anyone's Stanley Cup, as it was when the Canadiens, Islanders, Kings and Maple Leafs were in the Final Four 17 years ago, and you never know when Montreal will be in this position again.
The Canadiens' hopes to face San Jose or Chicago for the title lie mostly in one question: can Jaroslav Halak continue his mastery in goal? Montreal would seem to have an advantage with Highlight Halak over the reliable Michael Leighton.
Flyers in seven.
Notes: Flyers grinder Ian Laperriere has resumed skating with the team, but has not been cleared for contact. Laperriere has been out with a concussion and facial contusions since blocking a shot with his face in Game 5 of the first round victory over the Devils. He has yet to be told by team doctors when he could be cleared for action. Whenever he does return, Laperriere has pledged to wear a visor for the remainder of his playing career.
A pair of star players are not expected to make miraculous returns anytime soon. Flyers 30-goal scorer Jeff Carter, out since Game 4 of the New Jersey series with a leg injury, is not close. Canadiens No. 1 defenseman Andrei Markov has tested his injured knee by skating on his own, but is not ready for a comeback.