RALEIGH, N.C. - Weak start, strong finish: That has been the Flyers' modus operandi for much of this wretched season.
The Flyers earned a point against the Stanley Cup champions last night at the RBC Center, but they could have had two points with a better first period. They lost, 3-2, on Glen Wesley's shorthanded goal in overtime.
"You get a four-on-three in overtime and it really favors you," coach John Stevens said. "We relaxed there for a minute, and a veteran guy took advantage of it. It's really disappointing because we had the puck, lost control, and got beat up ice. . . . We have to start finding ways to take advantage of these opportunities."
It was Wesley's first goal of the season, and it came just 16 seconds into the extra session on a pass from Justin Williams.
"We started out slowly; we gave them a 2-0 lead," Flyers forward Mike Richards said. "We battled our way back. But we had a missed opportunity on the power play [in overtime].
"Definitely, a stronger start would have helped. As the [first] period went on, we just got worse instead of getting better, and that shouldn't happen."
Carolina led by 2-1 going into the third period before the Flyers ratcheted up the pressure. Rookie defenseman Alexandre Picard tied the game at the 16-minute mark with a goal off a rebound of a Richards shot. Picard, the trail man on the play, tucked it inside the post.
"I just joined the rush and Richie made a nice play there," Picard said. ". . . The puck was just laying there and I put it into an empty net."
Meanwhile, Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki gave up a soft goal early, then atoned for it with a number of quality saves. On the game-winner, Niittymaki was caught leaning to his glove side and was beaten to the stick side. He was screened as well.
The Flyers were badly outplayed by the Hurricanes in the first period, giving up two goals on just eight shots. Worse for them, the Flyers did not get a shot on goal in the final seven minutes of the period.
Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour scored his 20th goal at 13 minutes, 2 seconds, taking a pass up the boards from Bret Hedican and blasting a shot from the left circle.
The shot appeared to be headed wide of the net but nipped Niittymaki's glove hand and went in. Niittymaki looked at his glove after the shot, a familiar sight this season.
"I overreacted," Niittymaki said. "A guy shoots from there, you don't have time to think if it goes wide. With any goalie, you try to make a save. There are probably 10 saves a game where it [would have] gone wide. I just overreacted a little bit."
All it takes in a one-goal game is a soft goal to make a difference.
"It's never easy, and I'm sure that's one he'd like to have back," Stevens said. "That's a puck he has to stop. Now you've got an uphill climb and everything seems harder.
"He came back and played solid after that. Our team got better as the game went on. . . . It's the details of the hockey game that make a difference here, and we lost the game on details."
On Carolina's second goal, Williams centered the puck in the slot for Andrew Ladd, who had several jabs at it in the crease. Randy Jones failed to stop Ladd from pushing the puck under Niittymaki.
Although Carolina outplayed the Flyers for much of the second period as well, it was only 2-0. That changed at 10:05 when Dmitry Afanasenkov took a pass from Jones and surprised goalie John Grahame with a shot off the crossbar into the net, cutting the deficit to 2-1.
Joni Pitkanen had an opportunity to tie the game in the final minutes of the period with an odd-man rush during a four-minute Flyers penalty kill, but the young defenseman waited too long to shoot the puck. Grahame stopped his shot from an odd angle.
One of these days, he's going to shoot before he runs out of ice.