Will this be the one they’ll point to as their undoing seven weeks from now? Will the Flyers find themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs get underway because they applied the “Golden Rule” in reverse Thursday night in a devastating 5-4 loss to their bitter cross-state rival Penguins.
Two weeks after erasing an early two-goal deficit in a wild, 6-5 win in Pittsburgh — capped when Jake Voracek completed his first career hat trick with 1:31 left — the Flyers did unto the Pens one better. They coughed up a seemingly commanding 4-1 first-period lead which had sent goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to the bench during a complete 10-minute second breakdown that also prematurely ended Ilya Bryzgalov’s night.
When Chris Kunitz took advantage of a Kimmo Timonen turnover to beat Brian Boucher just 18 seconds into the third for his second of the night, it proved the game-winner.
Tomas Vokoun, who only had to face 14 shots the last two period after a shaky Fleury was bombarded with 18, wound up winning the battle of the bullpens, getting a reprieve when Scott Hartnell’s apparent tying goal was disallowed for having a high stick.
“The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t going to sit back and hand over two points,” said a disgusted Hartnell in a somber Flyers’ locker room as Philadelphia slipped to 11-13-1. “They’re going to come hard. Before you know it’s 4-4 and you just can’t do that. It’s embarrassing to the fans and it’s embarrassing to one another. We let another two points slip away.”
It’s an all too familiar refrain for a team that simply can’t seem to stand prosperity. What made it more disturbing was they specifically talked about avoiding such a collapse after building the lead on a pair of Voracek goals, along with solos by Zac Rinaldo and Kimmo Timonen.
“You see this type of stuff happen all the time,” said Boucher. “If you take your foot off the gas, things change in a hurry. We talked about it in between periods. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer why things changed direction. You can’t give up leads like that if you want to keep making your way up the standings.”
In the Flyers’ case, they’re going in the opposite direction, having slipped all the way down to 11th in the East, three points behind the 8th place Rangers, who also hold three games in hand.
“We need to do a better job finishing up games,” said Peter Laviolette, with the 15-3-3 Bruins next on the agenda, followed by Buffalo. “We’ve had a lot of tie games and a lot of situations to win games and they’ve slipped away. We talked about it before we went out there for the second period that Pittsburgh’s game would elevate and ours would need to stay elevated. It didn’t. That period, we were sleeping.”
And if they’re not careful the Flyers may well snooze themselves right out of the playoffs.