Breaking Point: Flyers Tough Schedule Became Too Much to Handle
Two weeks ago, the Flyers picked up a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. It was Monday, March 11, and the Flyers had taken a 16-point deficit in the standings and closed the gap to within three points of a playoff spot.
But the three games that followed -- and the four since, a seven-game stretch where the Flyers have gone just 2-5-0 -- has really put an end to all the playoff talk as a difficult schedule of games that were all must-wins at this point simply became too much.
It was certainly an impressive run given the way the season started, another October of mediocrity, another stretch to Thanksgiving where the team didn’t perform and a lot of repercussions for poor performance, notably the firing of both the GM and head coach three weeks apart.
For the Flyers to be in contention, let alone in the conversation, was remarkable. But they faced a stretch of games after that designed to break teams in their very position. Following the win over the Senators, the Flyers had three games to play in four days, a home game against the Washington Capitals following by road games in Toronto and Pittsburgh.
The Flyers had lost to the Capitals eight days earlier, and again could not match their skill, speed and talent level. The Flyers fell 5-2.
The next night, the Flyers had to somehow find a way to rebound against Toronto, a team that had wiped the floor with them in late November, 6-0, in the final game before Ron Hextall’s firing. After playing to a 1-1 tie through the first period, the Flyers pulled ahead in the second period to a 5-2 lead with five minutes to go in the middle period.
Then came the collapse. The Flyers allowed two goals late in the second and three unanswered in the third to surrender the 5-2 lead and trail 7-5. They got one goal back in the final two minutes, but dropped that game 7-6.
That was really the beginning of the end. At that stage of the season, in the position the Flyers were in, back-to-back losses, especially in regulation, are crushing. The Flyers were on the verge of a third-straight regulation loss before James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier provided the heroics in a 2-1 overtime win in Pittsburgh.
The odds were still slim then, but there was a path. It all hinged on the result last Tuesday against Montreal, the last head-to-head meeting between the two teams. The Flyers couldn’t match the Canadiens desperation and energy and fell 3-1. That too felt like the dagger.
But the Flyers pulled back in with a win in Chicago last Thursday, keeping the slim hopes alive for another game. Back-to-back losses against the Islanders and Capitals again, though, have essentially ended all discussions. At eight points back with six games remaining, it’s over.
The Flyers had a nice little run, keyed largely by excellent goaltending from Carter Hart and Brian Elliott. Posting an 18-4-2 record over 24 games, not matter how it happens, is impressive. But the way the Flyers were playing wasn’t sustainable. They got the timely scoring they needed. They got the goaltending. They beat the teams they were supposed that were lower in the standings. It seemed like everything was somehow falling into place for the Flyers to make a run.
When it came down to it, the Flyers last 16 games were really the telling point. In the last 16 games, the Flyers are 8-7-1, which is certainly a modest record. The problem is that of the eight losses in the last 16, they were all games the Flyers needed to have in some way or against an opponent that the Flyers could not seem to solve all season. Three losses to Washington, two to Montreal, one each to the Islanders, Toronto, and Columbus in overtime.
The two losses to Montreal and the overtime loss to Columbus are critical here. It was apparent that the Flyers are not in the same class as Washington or Toronto and that was to be expected. The Flyers had found success against the Islanders over the same stretch, winning two road games, but at home, lacked the effort.
The two games against Montreal were four-point swings. Losing both games in regulation essentially created the eight-point margin between the two teams that is now signaling the end of the Flyers season. The loss to Columbus in overtime wasn’t all that surprising given the Flyers general struggles against Columbus all season -- another team that swept the season series -- but the Flyers at least got a point out of that to counter the blow.
Still, when the most critical games were played, the Flyers either couldn’t make it happen or didn’t have the energy needed to win.
The season was lost in the first two months with all of the turmoil and change that was made behind the bench and in management. But the Flyers were in a position to erase all of that with three weeks left in the season. Unfortunately, whether the team just ran out of gas or the continued mistakes that didn’t burn them before but did now, the thought of a run is over.
The schedule did hit a breaking point for the Flyers, and after bending for so long, it fell to pieces and fizzled out in the end.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.