As midnight approaches, the Flyers can’t sleep on anyone. This was apparent Tuesday night, when they didn’t make one mistake, and wound up two points further behind in their already unlikely quest to reach the NHL playoffs.
It was reinforced Wednesday, when they made plenty and pushed the clock forward as if daylight saving time had already arrived. One night after Pittsburgh, Columbus and Montreal all kept pace with victories, the Flyers surrendered the game’s first five goals before scoring three over the final 20 minutes and 12 seconds in a 5-3 home loss to the Washington Capitals.
It left them seven points out of the playoff picture with 15 games on their schedule – 12 against teams currently inside that postseason bubble.
``It stinks,'' said Scott Laughton. ``It’s tough. When we’re playing good hockey like that for so long and then we come out, big game, good crowd , it’s loud...and we watched them play, had a front-row seat to it.
``We got walked over in the first two periods.''
Yeah, it’s a tough. And it’s why oddsmakers gave them just a 6 percent chance to pull it off even before Wednesday’s flat tire, despite recording a 17-4-2 record since their last encounter with the Stanley Cup champions back on Jan. 8.
The Flyers lost that game 5-3, scoring a couple of late goals just as they did on Wednesday. It was their eighth loss in a row, and possibly the ugliest of them all. Sloppiness that sure seemed to reflect indifference left Gordon seething about the ``13 or 14’’ Grade A chances that egregious mistakes afforded the defending Stanley Cup champions, chances that did not allow their latest goaltender, Mike McKenna, any chance to earn a story he can someday tell his two small children.
One night after that loss in early January, the Flyers awoke as the 31st best team in a 32-team league. Gordon awoke mulling his own narrative. He had been on the job exactly three weeks, using the players and the system that was left to him. The results, the effort, had been just as inconsistent as it had been under Dave Hakstol.
Change was coming.
The Flyers that lost, 5-3, to the Capitals on Wednesday night were hardly indifferent or lethargic. They were, quite simply, overmatched. They had put up a brave front earlier in the day when it became official that 59-point man Jake Voracek would again not play due a lower body injury and that it was likely Nolan Patrick would be given at least until the weekend to clear his head after a slapshot rung up the ear opening of his helmet early in Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the Islanders.
That left Michael Raffl starting at left wing when the puck was dropped. Corban Knight jumped over the boards with a makeshift second line 30 seconds later. The Capitals peppered Brian Elliott with seven shots inside the first six minutes, and when a second Capitals goal tipped off his glove and under the crossbar with just under six minutes left in the first period, it was as if a dam broke.
Elliott was replaced by Cam Talbot before five minutes had elapsed in the second period, surrendering a power play goal to Alex Ovechkin after a failed clear created a lethal scramble, and another shortly after when Phil Myers misplayed a puck along the boards in the neutral zone, creating a 2-on-1 that Andre Burakovsky potted without making a pass.
It went to 5-0 after Radko Gudas joined Travis Sanheim in pursuit of Jakub Vrana behind the net, leaving Niklas Backstrom alone streaking down the slot – and Gordon shaking his head along the bench.
Deja vu? Not even close. The 5-3 loss to these guys on Jan. 8 was Gordon’s starting point. The team that lost by the same score Wednesday had become his disciples, evident by the push made over that final 20 minutes and change, and by an unwillingness afterward to cling hopefully to any carryover effect for Saturday night’s game back on Long Island, when both Voracek and Patrick are expected to be back.
``You can’t expect to win games if you show up like that for 40 minutes,'' said rookie defenseman Myers, whose first NHL goal triggered that final period push.
``It’s kind of a missed opportunity for us,'' said Andrew MacDonald. ``Luckily, we still have some games we can look forward to.''