Sunday, December 28, 2014

Panic or paranoia for Flyers?

BOSTON -- Paranoia, they say, is the bastard child of fear and good sense.

Panic or paranoia for Flyers?

Gallery: Bruins 5, Flyers 2

BOSTON -- Paranoia, they say, is the bastard child of fear and good sense.

For the Flyers, after Saturday’s gut-wrenching, 5-2 loss at a jam-packed TD Garden, is now: when does paranoia become legitimized panic?

A compelling case could be made for either direction.

Inducing fear, with 5 games remaining in an 82-game season, would not be difficult. The Flyers have gained just 4 out of a possible 14 points in their last 7 games (1-4-2). They nearly went 3 full games (165:01) without scoring - and their once red-hot power play struggled through a dismal, 0-for-12 slump. Suddenly, a team which has earned their paychecks with the game on the line, has been badly outplayed in consecutive third periods.

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The Flyers entered the third period tied against the best team in the Eastern Conference  - by a country mile - and fell asleep at the wheel. Ray Emery’s crease was a slaughterhouse, as the Bruins piled up 21 shots in 20 minutes.

“The last two games, we played a great 40 minutes. We played hard, been in the game the whole way, and then... We just don’t keep pushing,” Wayne Simmonds said. “It’s odd because the third period has been our period.”

Those with good sense, though, would recognize that the Flyers have not faced a non-playoff team since March 11. The blemishes on that 1-4-2 record, which came on the heels of a 5-game winning streak against stiff competition, cannot be viewed without the context of their top-end opponents: the Kings, Rangers, Blues, Blue Jackets and Bruins (twice). Outside of that loss at Madison Square Garden, the Flyers were never truly out of one of those games midway through the third period.

Despite the onslaught in Beantown on Saturday, the Flyers kept it knotted until just over 6 minutes remaining.

“I don’t think we got outplayed,” Claude Giroux said. “I think maybe today we didn’t stick to the gameplan and we were impatient with our game. We need to trust the way we play. I really believe we did a lot of good things out there.”

There are equal reasons for concern and calmness - because the current reality of the Flyers’ highs and lows of the last month lies in the middle somewhere. They are not an 18-wheeler off a cliff in Toronto, they just aren’t closer to the juggernaut Bruins, either.

With their first season series sweep of the Flyers since 1989-90, the Bruins clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

And, well, the Flyers’ seeding and season has come down to where we thought it might all along: the last week.

The Flyers’ playoff chances, if you put stock in algorithms, still clock in at 96.2 percent after Saturday’s third period romp. They would still likely limp into the playoffs as the East’s top wild card (84 percent) with a 1-3-1 record.

More than anything, this run of confused hockey for the Flyers feels like human nature. They are a team that climbed an impressive mountain and though once they had a little breathing room, they could take the easy route down.

“We had a good stretch there,” Jay Rosehill said. “I think starting with that Pittsburgh home-and-home got us a lot of points and got us in the mix. Obviously, you don’t want it coming down to the last few games, but it’s like that for a lot of teams. Only a handful of them get to walk through the last 5 games. 

“So, I think it’s a little better if we can bring our game together and hopefully go into the playoffs on a high note.”

Suddenly, Sunday’s game against last place Buffalo - and the subsequent trip to Florida, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh - has meaning. Originally, the Flyers would have had an opportunity to clinch an official playoff berth against the Sabres.

Instead, this week will be important not only for the points, but for the Flyers to get back to the style of play that pushed them to wins over the Blues, Blackhawks and Penguins.

Giroux, Simmonds and Scott Hartnell all mentioned “sticking with the system.” That means playing with the puck - crossing into the offensive zone with the puck on their sticks - and not spending all of their time trying to get it back. In a week’s time, the Flyers went from bulls to brittle at the blue line.

Coach Craig Berube said the puck possession was “there for a while then it went away” against the Bruins. Defenseman Nick Grossmann chalked it up to a lack of attention to detail.

“We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of skills that can hold onto it and make plays,” Hartnell said. “You know, it just seems that maybe coming down the last few games we’re not in, the guys might be a little tight. But when you play tight, you play losing hockey right from the start.”

Part of the team, according to Hartnell, is playing with fear. The other is preaching good sense. The Flyers have one final week to decide whether any talk of a late-season collapse and another possible long summer is anything more than paranoia.

“I think that we are a confident team still,” Berube said. “I don’t think that we are playing the way we can. I think that we can play a lot better. We are a good third period team - we have been all year. Right now, the last two games, we haven’t been. For me, it’s just certain periods and areas that we have to clean up.”

SLAP SHOTS

Jay Rosehill scored his second goal of the season in his first game since March 8th. It was just his second game in the lineup since January ... Craig Berube shifted Vinny Lecavalier back to the second line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, but didn’t find much success ... The Flyers only yielded one power play, the fifth time they’ve done that this season ... Simmonds now ranks third in the NHL with his 14th power play goal in the second period, which snapped the goalless drought at 165:01.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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Frequent Flyers is your home for news and analysis of all things orange and black.

Frank Seravalli Daily News Staff Writer
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