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Flyers' gamble so far a push

PHILADELPHIA -- Somewhere in Los Angeles, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had to be sharing a chuckle.

And in Phoenix, the Coyotes unleashed a big exhale for more reasons than having new ownership.

Eleven months after the Philadelphia Flyers decided their once-future cornerstones were worth dumping, Richards and Carter are thriving with the Kings along an improbable route to the Western Conference finals. The Coyotes, meanwhile, have no second thoughts about trading goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and adding Mike Smith, because they'll be on the other side of the ice against the Kings playing for the right to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

And then there's the Flyers. They will be watching the rest of the postseason from home.

Again.

General Manager Paul Holmgren's major gamble last summer to reshape the direction of the franchise yielded mixed results. The Flyers won 47 games, totaled 103 points, finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and had a nice six-game postseason series win over odds-on favorite Pittsburgh.

But the run lasted only five more games, thanks to the New Jersey Devils. Bryzgalov allowed one of the franchise's all-time bloopers of a goal and the Flyers' offense ran out of fuel in a 3-1 loss Tuesday that left them without another game to play -- or a championship banner to hang in the rafters.

Just like most of the last 36 seasons, goaltending was a deciding factor. Bryzgalov had his moments of proving he was worth the $51 million, nine-year deal he signed to steady the net. But the Flyers needed more than moments. They needed a wall. They needed a game-changer who could carry them to the Cup.

All the Flyers really got were odd comments and odder goals allowed.

"Better teams go further, you know," Bryzgalov said.

The Flyers clearly were not the better team against the Devils. Though they should have been.

Of course, it's impossible to know how the Flyers would have fared had they kept Carter and Richards. Even if the Kings win the Stanley Cup, the Flyers remain steadfast in their belief that a dose of short-term pain -- and perhaps, embarrassment -- is worth the long-range potential of forwards Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier -- the total haul in the two separate deals for Carter and Richards.

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