MONTREAL - If it happens - if commissioner Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup to Mike Richards in a couple weeks - you will remember Saturday's as one of the landmark games.

It will be like Game 4 of the 2008 National League championship series was for the Phillies and their fans - the moment the team proved, to itself and its followers, that it had the right stuff to end a championship drought.

"We've responded all year from disappointing losses," said Richards, the captain who so ably set the tone. "Tonight was no different. Full confidence that we would do that."

No one is forgetting or slighting what the Flyers did in their historically rare comeback against the Boston Bruins. But as exciting as that four-game thrill ride was, it only got the Flyers halfway to a championship.

Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final did much more. It put the Flyers on the very threshold of the Cup final. It erased their jacklighted-deer performance in Game 3. And it seemed to take the heart, finally, of this very resilient Canadiens squad. Not only were they unable to sustain their home-ice dominance, they got shut out for the third time in four games.

Claude Giroux's gorgeous second-period goal was the equivalent of Matt Stairs' epic home run in Dodger Stadium, a play that served to lift his team at the same time as it put a dagger into the opponents. Like those Phillies, the Flyers now come home needing to win just one game in three tries.

More important, like those Phillies, the Flyers are shrugging off the weight of history. The Phillies had the citywide 25-year championship drought to deal with. The Flyers have only their own franchise's 35 years without sipping from the Cup. It takes a special team to keep its focus and continue winning.

Game 4 is where the Flyers, like the Phillies, showed how special they are. "One thing we wanted to do was make sure we just won one hockey game," coach Peter Laviolette said. "That was really important. Not to look too far - at the Finals and who you might be playing. Just one game in Montreal."

The Flyers stormed the, ahem, beach at Bell Centre. They bounced back from a stunningly bad performance with one that was equally stunning in its completeness.

Take Chris Pronger, who had his one poor performance of the playoffs in Game 3. On the ice for four even-strength goals, and responsible for a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers, Pronger looked like age and ice time might be taking a toll on him.

So he came out in Game 4 and delivered a nearly perfect performance for a game-high 31-plus minutes of rock-steady time on the ice.

"There probably weren't enough minutes for him tonight," Laviolette said. "He probably wanted to play the whole game."

"When you have a tough game," Pronger said, "you want to rebound. That's the sign of a professional, and I think we all realized there weren't too many of us that had a good game in Game 3."

Pronger was money Saturday, and there was a multiplier effect. His partner, Matt Carle, was very good. Goalie Michael Leighton turned in another shutout, but faced just one shot in that decisive second period. And it was Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, the two veteran blueliners, who initiated goal-scoring plays.

Timonen got the puck to Giroux, who took advantage of a stumbling Josh Gorges, and broke in alone on Jaroslav Halak. Giroux made as if he were going to try to pull Halak with a crossing move, then fired a perfect shot over Halak's right shoulder.

(Cue slow-mo of Stairs' homer landing in the right-field bleachers in L.A.)

Later, Pronger made one of his uncanny outlet passes to Villo Leino. Again, the defenseman seemed to lose his footing - this time it was young P.K. Subban - and again the resulting breakaway was converted.

(Insert highlight of Shane Victorino's game-winning home run from Game 4 in L.A.)

The frenzied crowd at Bell Centre, realizing it might be witnessing the last NHL game in Canada this season, went church quiet. The Canadiens played better in the third period, but the Flyers did not let up.

And now they could not be in a better spot. Not only do they have a 3-1 series lead, they are playing a team that staged its own epic comebacks in the first two rounds and won Game 7s on the road. They are inoculated against overconfidence.

"We obviously want to stymie that and make sure we're putting our foot on the throat," Pronger said. "We've got to make sure we have that closer mentality."

(Cue Brad Lidge, the closer of '08, retiring Jeff Kent to end Game 4 and deliver his team to the threshold.)

If it happens for the Flyers, you will remember this one.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.