Hayes: Flyers reach a dead end

Blue Jackets Flyers Hockey
Columbus' David Savard (58) and the Flyers' Travis Konecny (11) chase a loose puck during the first period Monday, March 13, 2017, in Philadelphia.

IF YOU know you're going to die, then it's best to die at home.

That's where the Flyers' 2016-17 season met its end Monday night, for all practical purposes. It was neither an untimely death, nor especially cruel. It was something of a mercy killing.

Columbus cruised into Philadelphia and sleepwalked through a 5-3 win. The Flyers, desperately clinging to wild-card dreams, were unremarkable in every aspect. So were the Blue Jackets.

And, still, the Blue Jackets won. They're one point out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They won yawning; won like a bully holding an angry little kid by the head at arm's length while the little kid swings both fists, furious and futile.

The Flyers have played like that little kid for a month now. A week ago, hope still glimmered. A deadline trade put veteran Valtteri Filppula in the center of the second line. The Flyers collected five points in three games. Could they replicate the late playoff run from last season?

Three must-win losses later: No.

Technically, mathematics has not yet abandoned the Flyers. Rest assured, no such miracle will present itself this year. Their case is terminal.

They took a turn for the worse Thursday in Toronto, a 4-2 loss to the team that holds the final playoff spot but coach Dave Hakstol said Monday that his team "deserved better." They got sicker on Saturday in Boston but Hakstol again defended the effort: "A hell of a game."

If it sounds as if Hakstol is defending the Zamboni version of The Process, think again.

"Bottom line is, you look for results," Hakstol said. "We're not looking for any moral victories right now."

Given the team's composition, there should be no moral victories. There should only be objective evaluation.

Objectively: They trail Toronto by six points with 14 games to play entering Tuesday night. Three teams are ahead of them. Florida is one point behind with a game in hand. The powerful Penguins visit the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday.

Objectively: The Flyers have a carload of highly paid veteran forwards but they don't score enough. The team isn't big enough to be imposing. They're not fast enough to be dangerous. They're not precise enough to dismantle you. At some positions, they are young, but not young enough to excuse the lack of size and speed skill.

Youth does sometimes carry them, and kill them. Rookie wing Travis Konecny played a scintillating game Monday, unstoppable from the middle of the first period until the middle of the third. He had his first two-goal game. His second came with 8:57 to play in the second period, gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead and made him a target.

After TK's second goal, the Blue Jackets spent the rest of the game swarming him. At one point, 6-3, 221-pound wing Josh Anderson engaged Konecny, 5-10, 175.

Konecny didn't like that extra attention; and so, with 12:40 to play in the game, he threw a payback shoulder near center ice that dropped Oliver Bjorkstrand. That roughing call turned into the winning power-play goal 86 seconds later.

"I let the game get to me. I was definitely getting it a little bit tonight. I've just got to handle it better," Konecny acknowledged. "It's a tough pill to swallow, but I've got to learn from it."

Another lesson: Mediocre teams cannot overcome those sorts of mistakes. When you're 31-29-8, you're mediocre.

The Blue Jackets knew that, and they issued the ultimate insult: They thought it would be so easy that they didn't really show up. They played sloppily, surrendering eight power-play chances, one of them 21 seconds of 5-on-3 advantage. The Flyers went 1-for-8 on the power play. They didn't put a shot on goal during the 5-on-3.

The Blue Jackets had only two power plays but they scored on their second. The Flyers' penalty-killers have now allowed goals on seven of their last 15 kills.

Hakstol defended the killers. He also said there would be no personnel changes on the power-play units.

That might frustrate fans, but Hakstol has no choice. After 68 games, there are no magic combinations left for this assemblage. They have 14 games left to prepare for the next season. They will return younger - they have a bumper crop of prospects - but also older; Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds.

They might be better. They might be worse.

For now, they're just dead.