As they fell behind the Boston Bruins to set up that unforgettable comeback last year, the Flyers kept saying they were playing well enough to win.

There was none of that Saturday.

The Flyers were horrible, losing Game 1 on their home ice by the ridiculous score of 7-3. Just when you thought they'd found their game at the end of their first-round series with Buffalo, the Flyers proved they still had some wretched hockey in their tanks.

"There's a lesson to be learned from tonight's game," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "It doesn't matter what happened the week before or yesterday. It looked like we were still stuck in the Buffalo series, and it's over. Today was probably the worst game we've played for a long time."

Indeed, the Flyers were so lame, they made the usual goaltender discussion moot. Brian Boucher was yanked - as has become customary for Flyers goalies - but there is no rational reason to bench him for Game 2 Monday. His teammates were that bad in front of him.

"Everybody could have been better," Danny Briere said. "I don't think it's fair to blame just the goalie or just the defensemen. . . . We didn't compete against anybody. We let them get behind us and got outworked in front of the net."

"We left the goaltender hanging tonight," captain Mike Richards said. "When you give second, third, and fourth opportunities the puck is going to go into your net eventually."

The question coming into this postseason was whether this contending team had a goalie good enough to win the Stanley Cup. In Game 1, the team wasn't nearly good enough to win with anybody in goal.

"It wasn't a good afternoon all around for all of us," Boucher said. "We didn't get any breaks. We certainly didn't play all that well. I don't see the need for a change."

Coming back with Boucher would be the best way for coach Peter Laviolette to underscore that his team, as a group, was the problem. Changing goalies, as he did three times in the Buffalo series, would send the wrong message by creating a scapegoat for this one.

There were 20 scapegoats for this one.

If this were the NFL, and this were a one-game playoff, there would be real questions about how unprepared and uninspired the Flyers looked. It would be the kind of stink bomb that reflects badly on the coach and the leadership, especially the captain.

Fortunately for Laviolette and Richards, this is hockey. The Flyers don't have to wait until next season to wipe up the stain they left on the ice. They have to wait only 48 hours. If the Flyers take the ice as they did in Game 7 against Buffalo, and maintain that level of play throughout the series, they can beat Boston.

If not, this could get uglier fast and be over by next weekend.

"It was a bad game from us on every level," Timonen said. "Emotionally, skating-wise, nothing seemed to work for us tonight. . . . It was all about us."

"We knew what they were going to do, and they did that," Timonen said of the Bruins. "It wasn't that they did anything special or were so much better. It was all about us and how we played."

The rest of the series will reveal whether Timonen is correct about that. The Bruins looked bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, handsomer, and more debonair throughout this game. They are a better team than they were last year, no question.

But are they that much better? Did they make the Flyers look that bad, or did the Flyers make the Bruins look that good?

Certainly, the Flyers' lead-footed defensive play and slapstick puck handling contributed to the Bruins' dominance.

"We let them skate," Richards said. "We weren't as physical as we wanted to be. I'm not sure why, but come next game we have to be more physical with their players and make it tougher to score goals. They outhit us tonight in our building."

If these Flyers have shown anything, it is that they can leave a loss, even a truly ugly one, behind. There is no carryover. They lost Game 1 to Buffalo, fell behind three games to two, and still won that series. And of course, there was last year's comeback against these Bruins.

So Game 1 wasn't a reason to abandon all hope. It was, however, a missed opportunity. Because of that painful collapse last year, Boston came into this series with an edge. If the Flyers had won Game 1, they would have scored a direct hit on Boston's psyche.

Instead, the Bruins did the scoring, and it was the Flyers' psyche that took the hit.

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