You could feel this coming.
Along with the impressive number of victories the Flyers compiled in the month of February came a certain level of fortune. Snake-bitten in early hard-luck losses in October and November, the Flyers scored seven goals on Henrik Lundqvist, beat nemesis Sergei Bobrovsky with two goals on just 20 shots, and won a shootout against Montreal on Tuesday despite going scoreless in regulation and overtime.
They appeared to be getting too cute for their own good, a trait that again reared its ugly head in last night’s listless 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center — where they have accumulated less than half of their 78 points this season.
“You always have to take something and make a positive about it,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said afterward. “Especially this time of the year. You’re going to lose hockey games. I don’t like it. I don’t think any of us like the way we lost this hockey game tonight. Quite simply they won more battles, they won more races. They were the better team over the 60 minutes.”
The Flyers were outshot, 12-6, in the first period. They fell into a few of their old bad habits, opting for the pretty play and slam-dunk chance over getting pucks on net, picking up lazy stick penalties.
Technically, Justin Williams’ tap-in of Jeff Skinner’s wide-angle shot, which squeezed through the pads of Petr Mrazek, came one second after Taylor Leier was released from the penalty box, so it won’t affect the metrics of the Flyers already tepid penalty kill. But it still provided the Hurricanes, who entered the game with six straight losses (0-4-2), an early lead.
With Travis Konecny and Jeff Skinner off fort matching minors, Teuvo Teravainen gave the ‘Canes a two-goal cushion, tapping in a pass from Sebastion Aho at 5:39 of the second period.
The ‘Canes held a two-goal first-period lead over Boston Tuesday before succumbing 4-3 in overtime. Their determination to not repeat that, combined with a Flyers effort more akin to their November hockey than February hockey, was more than enough on this night. They outhustled the Flyers, outwrestled them along the boards and in front of their net, and when Williams redirected Brett Pesce’s shot from the point at the 11:42 mark of the second… well from the boos from the crowd you would have thought this team was playing to get out of the Metro Division cellar, not trying to regain first.
The Flyers were being outshot, 28-14, and trailed by three goals entering the third. Travis Konecny dug into that lead quickly, pushing Sean Couturier’s pass into the crease past Carolina’s Cam Ward at the 1:20 mark to get it to 3-1. But the Flyers mustered just two more shots in the 10 minutes that followed as the Hurricanes worked hard not to repeat their mistakes from two nights before.
Over their hot streak, the Flyers have rescued several games. When Noah Hanifin went off for holding with just under eight minutes left, they had a chance to put themselves in that position again. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol even used his timeout to keep the first unit on for its duration. They got nothing from it, and shortly after it ended, Aho’s wrist shot from the right circle iced it.
“They played a good game tonight,” said Konecny. “They played a structured game and made it real hard for us to get back in it. But we’ve had a stretch of unbelievable efforts and real good games. We just have to move on and get ready for Saturday.”
So, after roaring through February like Lions (10-0-2), the Flyers began the pivotal month of March in lambskin. It doesn’t get any easier. Six of their next seven games are against teams that would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today, beginning with Sturday’s matinee against Tampa Bay, the Eastern Conference top dogs.
“We’ve got to make sure we give ourselves a boost out of this,” Hakstol said. “… This team has handled reality very well all year. And that’s what we have to do in this case.”