Flyers Get Reminder of Playoff Feel in Good Test
For nearly two periods, Wells Fargo Center was packed and waiting for the moment to let all of the excitement out. The Flyers were pushing hard for the first goal of the game. It felt like only a matter of time before a goal was coming. The roof was ready to come off the building.
This was what it felt like to be back in the thick of a playoff race, not as a bubble team, but as a team being viewed as a true contender. And for the better part of two periods, they were faster, harder on pucks, creating turnovers and generating opportunities against the NHL’s best team.
The only problem was that they couldn’t solve a locked-in goalie.
Tuukka Rask quickly became the difference, and despite the Flyers 24-14 lead in shots through two periods, the Bruins were the team holding the 1-0 lead through 40 minutes.
So the Flyers winning streak came to an end with a 2-0 loss to the Bruins on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort or a game where they struggled to keep up with a top opponent. That is what they can take with them to the next game and beyond.
In the grand scheme of things, the loss means very little. Sure, a 10th straight win and first place in the Metropolitan Division were on the line, but those were hardly ever expectations at the start of the season. This loss does virtually nothing for the Flyers playoff chances. It does hurt their chances of being the surprise team to claim the Metro.
The Flyers schedule doesn’t get easier over the next week with Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Edmonton and St. Louis all on the schedule, but that’s probably for the better. Sure, the Flyers are in a division race and the team they are chasing has the easier schedule, so it may be an effort that starts to fall short down the stretch, but playing enough difficult opponents going into the playoffs will only further test the team’s fortitude to take a comfortable playoff appearance and turn it into a deep run.
“I liked our game,” Matt Niskanen said. “I’d rather win, but we just went on a heck of a run and played pretty good hockey tonight. You can see how tight it’s going to be when you play nothing but good teams in about a month here. It’s a good test for us.”
What you saw from the Bruins in the third period of this game is how Stanley Cup contenders close out games. The final 20 minutes was about more than goaltending. It was the unity of the team taking away almost all time and space and leaving the Flyers with very little to work with. Even in the final two minutes with the goalie pulled, it may have appeared that the Flyers lacked urgency. What they lacked was a lane to get the puck on net and even create an opportunity.
“For two periods, I felt we were the better team on the ice,” Alain Vigneault said. “We had some real good opportunities to take a lead, couldn’t get anything past him and they got that goal at the end of the second period on their power play. Seemed like it gave them confidence and momentum because in the third period they were the better team on the ice.”
The 2-0 defeat to Boston was only the third time the Flyers have been shut out all season. It was their first home loss since Feb. 6. It was their first loss overall since Feb. 15 in Tampa Bay. Ironically enough, guess where the Flyers head next?
The quick trip to Tampa in the middle of a stretch of six of seven games on home ice becomes very important for the Flyers confidence. They have been a team that has played with a lot of confidence for the last month. Even in a loss to the NHL’s best team, the Flyers took the right approach and gave an effort that can win on most nights. Replicate that, and they will be fine. But if they find themselves wallowing in the loss on Tuesday, it always has the potential to snowball into something bigger.
The Flyers haven’t lost back-to-back games since Jan. 4 and 7 as part of a four-game losing streak. Tuesday’s loss was just their sixth in regulation and seventh overall since that streak ended on Jan. 8.
“I think we are tougher now,” Niskanen said. “We are a little more confident in how we play and how we want to play and our abilities. Recognize we played a good game. We didn’t win, but get ready now for the next one.”
The Flyers will get ready and try to turn a trip to Tampa into the start of another streak to keep their push for a greater goal and a division title alive and well.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.