BOSTON -- And so it ends for the Flyers, quickly and profoundly. Four games, four losses, and now more than 4 months to try to figure out what went wrong.
Facing elimination, the Flyers did nothing to embarrass themselves on Friday night at TD Garden. They played a credible, competitive game. But they lost to the Bruins again, lost again, by a score of 5-1.
Now they go home to questions -- about why they keep falling into holes in games and series and other times, again and again testing their skill and their impressive level of fortitude; about how much time this nucleus might have together, especially given the series of injuries suffered by 36-year-old defenseman Chris Pronger, who played only three games this spring; and about their goaltending, a hardy perennial that bloomed into a full-grown riot the last couple of weeks.
The worst thing they could do would be to make a lot of pronouncements right now because so many of these issues are linked together. All they can do now is live with the flip side of their destiny. Last year at this time, the Flyers were celebrating a historic comeback against these self-fame Bruins. On Friday night, though, they were the ones wearing the grim faces in the handshake line.
The night began with the kind of intrigue that has become the Flyers’ custom. Coach Peter Laviolette declined to announce his starting goaltender until about 3 hours before game time -- and his choice, not surprisingly, was Sergei Bobrovsky. The circle was now complete. And, for the record, the Flyers’ 11 playoff games were net-minded, in order, by:
Bobrovsky; Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher; Boucher; Boucher; Boucher and Michael Leighton; Leighton and Boucher; Boucher; Boucher and Bobrovsky; Boucher and Bobrovsky and then Boucher again; Boucher and Bobrovsky; and then, last night, Bobrovsky.
(And, remember, this material will be on the final exam.)
Eleven games. Three different starters. Six games when the starter left, either because he was terrible (three times), the team in front of him was terrible (twice), or because of injury (once).
It was the entire story of the Flyers’ first-round series against Buffalo. It has been a continuing annoyance against the Bruins. And it was part of the pre-game speculation before Game 4 -- that, and whether or not Pronger would make a go of it after leaving Game 1 with about 2 minutes to go, never to return, with a still-undisclosed injury.
Would he? Wouldn’t he? For a while, on the NHL website, the pre-game lineup list Pronger as in. But he did not warm up and then the lineup was changed. Pronger, out.
So that was how it began.
In the first period, the Bruins not only got the first goal -- at 12:02 on a power play tap in by the Bruins’ human tank, Milan Lucic -- but they completely dominated. At one point in the period, the Flyers went 14:32 without a shot on goal, which is pretty hard to do when you are in desperation/elimination mode. But there it was.
To start the game, Laviolette made a key line change, grouping his three best forwards -- Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk and Danny Briere -- on the same line. It really didn’t generate much, though, and as things evolved, Briere would rejoin his regular linemates, Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell.
The Flyers were better to start the second period, but it was really an incremental improvement. The Bruins really had the game in lockdown mode, and they also managed a couple of very long stretches in the the Flyers’ end of the ice. Bobrovsky was not being asked to be spectacular, but he was good. And it was growing into one of those typically nervous playoff games where both teams probed for the mistake that might change things.
The Flyers’ Mike Richards, as it turned out, forced the key turnover that resulted in a 2-on-1 along with teammate Kris Versteeg. Richards ended up sliding the puck to Versteeg, who beat Thomas for his first goal of the playoffs. The time was 13:22 of the second. The scored was tied at 1-1.
The long, nervous night continued.
But the Bruins got the next one, at 2:42 of the third period, when defenseman Johnny Boychuk fired a 40-foot screamer that beat Bobrovsky high to the glove side. It might have tipped a stick along the way, and the puck might have sailed a little, and maybe this and maybe that -- but it was 2-1, Boston.
With the Flyers pressing for the tying goal, it was Lucic instead who went in alone on Bobrovsky and scored to make it 3-1. The last two Boston goals were scored into an empty net.
At which point, for the Flyers, the off-season unofficially began -- along with the questions.