MONTREAL - Perhaps balance is to come.

Perhaps balance has arrived.

The Flyers blew a two-goal lead and lost, 4-3, in overtime of Game 1 in the Eastern Conference semifinal. They came to that end, at least in part, because of two calls missed, or, kindly, two calls that were debatable.

They love this in D.C.

Today they dine on revenge, served lukewarm, since the cause of their ire hasn't had time to grow cold.

The Capitals and their fans insist flawed officiating cost them Game 7 of the first round Tuesday.

They declare that the Flyers' second goal never should have counted, that Patrick Thoresen ran the Caps' Shaone Morrisonn into goalie Cristobal Huet, so overtime never should have happened.

They contend that, if the first, blatant tripping penalty the Caps committed hadn't been called in overtime, then the second never should have been whistled, either; the Flyers scored on the resultant power play.

So, while the Flyers and their fans today nurse the injustices of last night's action, 140 miles south, they revel in the pain of their neighbors.

"More often than not, these things have a way of evening out," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said.

Maybe things now are even.

The Flyers are hoping the evening-out has yet to come.

"We didn't get a lot of breaks," said center Jeff Carter, not punning, although his stick broke on the faceoff that led to the Canadiens' tying goal in the third.

The Canadiens' biggest break lasted 4 minutes of real time, and it didn't even unfold on the ice.

Or in the Bell Centre.

Or in this lovely city.

Or this proud, stately province.

About 350 miles away, in a league office in Toronto, the NHL's cabal of goal-replay gods - usually among them, vice presidents Mike Murphy, Jim Gregory and Colin Campbell - decreed that Alex Kovalev's goal was good.

That Kovalev did not illegally high-stick the puck out of the air, into the back of the net; that, according to the league's Web site explanation, "Video review was conclusive that it was not struck with a high stick."

That, shorthanded, the Canadiens evened the game at 2-2.

The Flyers regained their lead 19 seconds into the third period, then outplayed the Capitals for the next 16 minutes or so, until desperation turned the tide Montreal's way. And then . . .

Dubiously, incredibly, with 69 seconds left, comes the only penalty of the third period: Mike Richards upended a charging Kovalev.

It was then Kovalev, with 29 seconds to play, who scored the tying goal. Skating six-on-four with the goalie pulled, he sniped the faceoff win, a win from Carter, whose stick broke on the draw.

Cursing, grumbling, the Flyers disputed the penalty afterward. With tape recorders and video cameras whirring, they wore the loss themselves, blamed no one.

Really, who could they blame for their flat play in the 48 short seconds of overtime?

If they admitted no ill effects of playing three games in 4 days, well, then, overtime should have been crisper.

If Daniel Briere, the playoffs' top scorer, truly was not affected by the continual booing - treasonously, he chose to sign with the Flyers over the Canadiens - then why was he so cleanly declawed last night?

There is the issue that, for the third time in eight playoff games, the Flyers blew a two-goal lead; that they would lose, again, as they lost Games 1 and 6 to the Caps.

The Flyers' principals in the two calls shrugged it off. They've been here before.

"It's like it was in Game 1 in Washington," goalie Martin Biron said.

"It's disappointing, more than anything," Richards said.

And they will persevere.

This is a team in the second round of the playoffs that was decimated by injury as the calendar turned, that lost 10 straight at one point, that was two favorable calls away from elimination Tuesday in Washington.

"If that had happened to us, I'd be upset, too," Holmgren said of the Caps. "We'll be OK."

"All year, our team hasn't done anything the easy way," said Carter.

"Besides, I couldn't tell if [Kovalev] hit it with a high stick. I didn't have a high-definition TV," Holmgren said . . . Slyly? Coyly?

See, this postseason, the NHL began using a high-definition video recorder in their war room.

The device is made by Bell . . . as in, Bell Centre.

Just saying. *

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