CALGARY, Alberta -- Anthony Stolarz sat alone in the Flyers dressing room, his pads still on, his face still staring ahead as if another puck was headed his way.
For 58 minutes he had done it, given his team that chance to win a game it had no business winning, against one the NHL’s most prolific teams, but then in a blink all that work was gone. Two goals in the final one minute and eight seconds of regulation, another one by Johnny Gaudreau 35 seconds into overtime, had flipped the night’s narrative from a gritty Flyers win to a heart-crushing 6-5 loss to the Calgary Flames.
``They were hungry, they wanted it more than us,'' said Stolarz, after stopping 35 of the 41 shots fired at him. ``At the end of the day, that’s why they got the extra point.''
No team has scored more in the third period this season than the Flames, nor rallied as many times from two goals down to win. But that was little solace for a Flyers team so in need of the kind of signature victory Wednesday’s game was shaping up to be, before goals by Rasmus Anderson, Sean Monahan and finally Gaudreau 35 pushed the Flyers back into their reality of inconsistency and error.
``The penalties set the table for the two tying goals,'' said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol. The Flyers killed off the four penalties they faced in the third period and five of six in the game, but, said the coach, ``that kills your bench, drains the energy.''
``We did it (to ourselves) every way we can.''
Sean Couturier’s two goals, including a third-period shorthanded breakaway that gave the Flyers some breathing room, was the offensive story until then, pushing the Flyers to a 5-3 lead with less than nine minutes remaining in the game. But the big picture was the play of the 6-6 Stolarz, who battled his way through the NHL’s second most potent offense, staring down those power plays with acrobatic saves.
Once again, the Flyers got the early jump they have spoken so often about between games. Once again, their efforts produced only Phil Varone’s crossbar-ringing semi-breakaway. They held the early shot advantage, and once again they fell behind despite it. Sam Bennett’s putback of Matthew Tkachuk’s wraparound try provided the first period’s only goal – on Calgary’s third shot – of the first period.
It triggered a momentum reversal, the Flames reversing that early 7-2 disadvantage to finish the first period with a 12-8 shot advantage over the Flyers, Stolarz providing adequate if not sometimes spectacular goaltending to keep the deficit at 1-0.
That loomed big after Travis Sanheim tied the game with what is becoming a signature move, taking a feed from Claude Giroux and swooping across the goalmouth to score with a backhander 52 seconds into the second period.
The Flyers fell behind again on Mark Giordano’s shorthanded goal but got it back when James van Riemsdyk converted a pass from Sean Couturier at 5:55 of the second.
Moments later, Couturier tipped Jake Voracek’s shot past Calgary goalie Mike Smith to make it 3-2. Just over a minute later, Dale Weise fired a wrist shot from the blue line that Smith simply muffed, giving the Flyers a 4-2 lead at 7:43 of the second period.
It was an awful goal and a great opportunity. But the Flyers did not test Smith again until Varone’s snap shot at 17:35 of the period. Between those moments, Voracek passed on taking a close shot to make a pass.
Flyers forwards repeatedly pass on shots to make an additional pass, more often creating a lesser chance or none at all. It is one of the clearest byproducts of a crisis in confidence, and as much as its goaltending or special teams, it is killing this team’s chance to right itself in time to make a run.
Calgary got one back at 10:13 of the second with Andrew MacDonald off for interference. Sean Monahan finished off a nice passing display with Tkachuk and Gaudreau, and the third period began with the Flyers holding onto that one goal lead at 4-3.
The Flames lifted Smith in favor of David Rittich to start the third period and began pouring rubber on Stolarz. A power-play save on Monahan, another on James Neal, and yet another on Monahan kept the Flyers ahead by that 4-3 margin. When Couturier scored his shorthanded breakaway at the 11:10 mark, it should have been enough.
And it was. Until the final 1 minute and eight seconds of regulation.