After 55 minutes of inspired hockey Saturday afternoon, the Flyers held a 2-1 lead over one of the Western Conference’s two best teams, scoring when Travis Sanheim’s pass deflected off a defenseman’s skate into the Calgary net, and again after Flames goaltender David Rittich played a puck onto the stick of Travis Konecny, who fired it into a mostly open net.
Those are the type of bounces and mistakes that this team has spoken of not getting on its descent toward the NHL’s cellar. And yet when asked, and sometimes baited, into explanations for what ultimately ended as a 3-2 overtime loss, each player conjectured that their team was undone by those few mistakes "that always seem to end up in the back of our net.’’
It’s not true, of course. There were plenty of mistakes that 20-year-old goaltender Carter Hart covered for, still others where a player covered for another. Plenty of mistakes that did not end up in the back of their net. When Ivan Provorov slipped and fell to the ice in the first period, for example, it was Konecny who raced back to thwart a golden chance for the Flames. On yet another occasion, Jake Voracek, of all people, closed in and closed down a shorthanded, odd-man rush.
No, Saturday’s loss was not a matter of a few bad mistakes. If anything, the Flyers got a point from a better team by being the better team for the vast majority of the game. Whether it was the gritty and conscientious play of Dale Weise’s fourth line against Johnny Gaudreau and his potent first line, two spectacular, third-period penalty kills, or the four-line roll that twice induced too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties and created four power plays, the Flyers gave an aggressive and sometimes bone-crushing effort that belied their place in the standings, and perhaps the civic discourse about them as well.
In the end, though, they were undone by one of the tenets of that discourse. They are, after 41 games under two coaches, two general managers, and six goaltenders, firmly entrenched in their own heads.
"I think that’s fair,’’ said Weise, who was not on the ice when Gaudreau tied the game at 1-1 at 8:51 of the second period. "I think it comes down to a confidence thing. Our power play is getting really good looks. And we’re just not scoring. I think that just comes down to a confidence thing. And how do you find confidence? You find confidence from scoring. From doing it. We just haven’t done it. All year long.’’
Actually, Sanheim’s lucky bounce came on the Flyers' first power play, but it was the result of an entry give-and-go with Jordan Weal. It was one of nine shots on those four power plays, and one of them created enough chaos and offense in the Flames zone to earn several goals.
It was the usual litany of why they didn’t. A post. Rittich got his stick out just before Robert Hagg’s shot crossed the goal.
"You’ve got to work for your bounces,’’ said Weise, who led the team with seven hits. “You can’t sit here every game and say, ‘We need a bounce.’ You’ve got to make your own chances. The league is too good, teams are too good. You’ve got to work for your chances. You’ve got to make those happen.’’
In the end, that was the precise difference. Bottled up, limited to just one shot on their two power plays, the Flames tied the game at 15:43 of the third period when Matthew Tkachuk wristed a pass from the slot past Hart. Tkachuk slipped past Wayne Simmonds for a wide-open look.
The winning goal, in overtime, was the result of another mistake, this one more glaring. Weal coughed up a puck deep in the offensive zone, creating an odd-man rush and T.J. Brodie’s winning goal. It was Brodie whose skate gave the Flyers their early lead.
Rittich attoned for his blunders with some great stops on those Flyers power plays, including that paddle stop on Hagg.
"It’s a game of mistakes,’’ said Calgary coach Bill Peters. "And, fortunately enough, we were able to overcome ours.’’