PHILADELPHIA – This one hurts.
Not just a pinch. Not like a bruise or a cut, where it only hurts when you touch it. No, this one stings down deep in the pit of your stomach. It twists and turns like a corkscrew. It causes the acid to take a northerly path before settling with a sizzle at the base of your throat.
That’s because it’s one thing to lose, it’s another to do so while blowing a three-goal lead. It’s another entirely when it’s against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Which is why tonight is a night when you grab your container of Tums and rather than just shaking out one or two tablets you just dump a bunch into your palm and chew them down hoping the chalkiness kills that reflux.
The Flyers lost in epic fashion 5-4, coughing up a 4-1 lead after the first period to their most bitter rival.
It was the first time the FLyers blew a three-goal lead and lost in regulation since 1993. It was the first time it happened in less than 21 minutes since 1987.
But it was more than that. It was, for all intent and purposes, a must-win game that they seemed to have, and lost. The Flyers have just 23 games remaining in the season and are currently not in a playoff spot and making matters worse is they’ve played more games than anyone else in the league – meaning other teams can create distance between themselves and the Flyers while the orange and black are sitting on their respective couches.
“It was a big letdown,” said Scott Hartnell. “I don’t know why we stopped playing from the way we were in the first period. We were fast, quick, hitting, getting into the extra-curricular activities after the whistle and we were playing Flyer hockey. Then we just sat back and when you do that [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby - these guys that are snipers and make plays. If we play like that it will be a long summer.”
Hartnell was certainly not happy, and let some more of his frustration spew during his post-game interview.
“We just can’t do that,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to the fans and it’s embarrassing to one another; we let another two points slip away… It’s not [coach Peter Laviolette] not getting us ready to go, he came in and said exactly what we’re saying, ‘Be ready to play.’ It’s not his fault, it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s everyone collectively and we have to figure it out fast.”
It all boils down to consistency and playing complete games. Those may seem like cliché reasons, but really, it’s what has cost the Flyers several games this season and the loss to Pittsburgh was just a microcosm of that.
For if the Flyers played the entire game the way they played the first period, there’s no doubt they would have been victorious.
They outshot the Pens 18-4. They scored all four goals in a span of 8:34. Jake Voracek stayed white hot scoring twice – both on the power play.
Zac Rinaldo had his third goal of the season and Kimmo Timonen, who had a fine night overall with three points, chased Pens starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrister that handcuffed the Pittsburgh goalie.
Only a luck bounce power play goal by Chris Kunitz left the period from not being identified as perfect for the Flyers.
And between periods, the team was feeling good about itself… but then for some reason, it completely went away. As if the Flyers lacked the killer instinct.
And they all know it. Here’s a sample of recollections from the team after they gave up the lead in the second period:
“If you take your foot off the gas, things change in a hurry,” said Brian Boucher, who ended up being the hard-luck loser, giving up the game-winning goal to Kunitz 18 seconds into the third period. “We talked about it in between periods. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for you as to why things changed direction in the second. You can’t give up leads like that if you want to keep making your way up the standings. Obviously no one is happy about it. It’s pretty frustrating right now.”
“I think we just got too comfortable with our lead and I think every period no matter what the score is we have to keep going," said Zac Rinaldo, who had his first multi-point game of his NHL career.
“Our second period was not a good period,” Laviolette said. “”It was the opposite of the first period. In the first, we were skating, physical, putting the puck behind him, and we looked to establish our game. In the second period, they picked up their game and we stopped working. The second period belonged to them.”
“To me, when you have 4-1 lead the game is in your hands big time,” said Kimmo Timonen. “In the second period we go on the ice and we’re not there for some reason and that’s the mental issue to me but somebody might have a different opinion. You got to be mentally prepared to go in there, it’s your job still if it 4-1 or we losing 1-4 it doesn’t matter, the score should never change your game and that seems to be an issue for us either way.”
For his part, Timonen admitted a mistake that led to an oddman rush and the eventual game-winning goal by Kunitz, saying he tried playing a puck he shouldn’t have and that left Luke Schenn back by himself with Kunitz and Sidney Crosby (three assists) on the attack.
But the game was lost well before that play. That was just the hammer. The second period was the demise of the Flyers (11-13-1, 23 points) who now find themselves in a situation where they must snap the losing skid by beating the Boston Bruins Saturday, a tall task since the game is in Beantown and the Bruins have the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“[We have to] have a great practice tomorrow and go into Boston with a ‘Do or Die’ attitude,” Hartnell said. “We’ve been saying it but now it’s time to get out there and back up our words and get a decisive win. We played a great 20 minutes, but 20 minutes doesn’t get you anything these days.”
Most importantly though, the Flyers can’t let this loss, on the back of the loss in New York, lead them down a slippery slope that they can’t get traction on in time to make the playoffs.
“It can’t bend us,” Laviolette said. “It can’t break us. We have got to come back and win the games… We will go back to work tomorrow and we will be back at it on Saturday.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37