Laughs and lighthearted groans came from a small group of Philadelphia Flyers players on Sunday, while they youthfully warmed up for practice by kicking a soccer ball around a circle they formed in a basement corner of the United Center.
The day after their frustrating loss to start the Stanley Cup finals, these whimsical sounds bounced off the cement walls. It was hardly an uptight picture of pressure.
The Flyers pulled their goalie, gave up six goals without facing a single power play, and failed to hold three leads in Game 1 at Chicago. For all they've recovered from in this remarkable season, though, they weren't about to fold up after losing once to the Blackhawks in their noisy arena.
"That's why it's a best-of-seven series," said defenceman Chris Pronger, later adding in prime smart-aleck form: "The world is not ending, and the sun came up today."
The Flyers, of course, needed all of that to escape their second-round series against Boston after dropping the first three games and falling behind by three goals in the decisive game. They overcame a slew of injuries in the regular season and in the first three series. They even experienced an elimination game just to get in the playoffs, beating the New York Rangers in a shootout to gain a spot on the final day of the regular season.
The Flyers felt their mistakes in defeat on Saturday were preventable, like failing to cover up the slot for goalie Michael Leighton.
"I don't think anybody is hitting the panic button or rushing to do anything rash here," Pronger said. "We just need to stay focused and play probably a little more relaxed."
Ah, so there were some nerves, the almost-inevitable anxiety that comes on the sport's biggest stage after a longer-than-usual layoff between games. Yes, but not in an underdog sort of way.
"Every loss is big in the playoffs. I'm not going to lie about that. But at the same time, coming in everybody was talking about how good the Blackhawks were. ... I haven't heard anybody giving us a chance," said centre Danny Brier.
According to the NHL, the winner of the first game has sipped from the silver cup in 54 of the 70 finals held since the best-of-seven format started in 1939.