Flyers

It's make-or-break time for Flyers

It's make-or-break time for Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers returned from their global retreats Friday afternoon set to resume the second half of their season. Looking to work off the bye-week rust, head coach Dave Hakstol put his team through an up-tempo 45-minute practice.

“The energy and mental concentration and that level was really good,” Hakstol said. “You've got to work right back into it, mentally and physically. You can’t just expect that to be there [Saturday] night.”

“We wanted to get our legs under us,” captain Claude Giroux said. “We don’t have time for mental mistakes Saturday. The first period is going to be very key for us. Make sure we make good decisions and be very responsible with the puck.”

Ideally, the Flyers would like to mirror their effort and start from last Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Blues. Prior to Friday’s workout, the team recalled forward Tyrell Goulbourne from Lehigh Valley to replicate the intensity and straight-forward physical play that led to the Flyers' first goal that game (see story).

“He’s here for a reason. He did a good job,” Hakstol said. “I liked the elements he brought in the first two games. Obviously he played limited minutes but that’s part of his role, and he did a good job in that role.”

The Flyers' pursuit of a playoff spot will go straight through the Metropolitan Division where they will play 21 of their final 40 regular-season games. The NHL schedule-makers also sandwiched the Flyers-Devils rivalry together tighter than a grilled panini, with four of the next 15 games to be played against each other.

“When you see each other up close and personal like these two teams are going to do several times here, the team will get familiar with each other real quick,” Hakstol said.

“It’s perfect for us. It’s right where we wanted to be,” forward Wayne Simmonds said. “This is where we need to make up a lot of our points and the best way of doing it is to play teams within our division. Especially since we’re chasing them. From what I’ve heard, [the Devils are] a really fast team. Obviously, there are young guys on the team who fly around, and they play a really exciting brand of hockey.”

This Devils team is a distant memory from the three-time Stanley Cup champion that took great pride in neutral-zone traps, defensive-minded hockey and world-class goaltending. This Devils team plays a much faster-paced game ranked in the top 10 offensively, averaging 3.1 goals a game to go along with the league’s sixth-ranked power play. 

Aside from the Vegas Golden Knights, the Devils are perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the league this season, currently third in the Metropolitan Division with 52 points after finishing with an Eastern Conference-worst 70 points last season.

“It looks like they find ways to win. They have guys who can score goals,” Giroux said. “Their goaltending has been pretty good this year. Cory (Schneider) is one of their best players and I think it’s important to attack him right away.” 

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Michal Neuvirth stood by his locker Wednesday night dejected, like the rest of his teammates, after the Flyers’ latest blunder, an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the Penguins in Game 4.

The Flyers are on the brink of elimination to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and Wednesday's defeat was the latest reminder of their current state of affairs.

"Definitely good to get in the mix," said Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Elliott in the second period for his first game action since March 28. "But tough outcome tonight. We lost it to a better team tonight."

With that, Neuvirth perfectly encapsulated exactly where the Flyers stand in this first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh. It's definitely good to be in the mix, and they lost to the better team.

We've heard that before and we'll hear it again, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This Flyers team isn't quite there yet, to compete with the Penguins or in the playoffs.

There are encouraging signs. The postseason experience will pay off in the long run — it's better than not being there. Nolan Patrick, 19, has perhaps been the Flyers' most consistent forward in the series. He was the only player who competed Wednesday.

But goaltending remains an eyesore and rookie mistakes are consistently being made by veterans, and some appear immune to accountability. Game 4 was as ugly as it gets (see story), and that's counting a series that included a 7-0 loss in Game 1.

The Flyers were never really in Wednesday's game outside of about a two-minute stretch in the first period, when they were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone until a Scott Laughton centering pass turned into a Penguins odd-man rush.

Bang, 2-0 Pittsburgh. Ballgame.

"From our standpoint," Dave Hakstol said, "we have to look from within. There's going to be momentum swings, there are going to be pushes, but we haven't been able to reestablish our game quick enough to give ourselves an opportunity."

Wednesday served as another grim reminder. This Flyers-Penguins rivalry, well, isn't much of a rivalry and hasn't been one in quite some time now.

Coming into this series, we heard the old storylines, about how much these two teams hate each other, how close games are, but the hate hasn't been there for a while and the games, they haven't been close, either.

The Penguins have dominated the Flyers, this season especially. With the 5-0 win Wednesday, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 38-17, in eight total games and 20-4 in games played at the Wells Fargo Center.

The hype machine was on full blast and we all bought into it. It's the playoffs, different animal, but some things never change no matter the environment.

At some point, it's time to bury the hatchet.

It was fun while it lasted, but for now, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is no more.

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

BOX SCORE

After watching what transpired over the last two games, there’s a strong feeling the Flyers played their final game on South Broad Street this season.

And for those who forked over postseason prices for Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, those fans certainly didn’t receive face value for what they paid.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Flyers dropped Games 3 and 4 on home ice, and neither game was even remotely competitive. After the Flyers lost, 5-1, in Game 3, the Penguins dimmed the lights at the Wells Fargo Center and shut off any electricity the crowd was hoping to generate in Game 4 with a 5-0 shutout (see observations).

Simply put, the Flyers looked deflated and dejected knowing they would be forced to play without Sean Couturier, who was a game-time decision but officially ruled out 40 minutes before the opening faceoff.

“They came out hard,” Andrew MacDonald said. “We kind of looked a bit flustered and I don’t know if it was attributed to the lines or what, but it certainly wasn’t a great start for us.”

Whatever rivalry existed between the Flyers and Penguins coming into this season was hardly recognizable in the four games played in Philadelphia (two regular season, two playoff), where the home team was outscored 20-4 (see story).

Just the mere presence of the Penguins in this building is expected to bring out the best in the Flyers. Instead, we saw them at their worst, and nothing irks Flyers fans more than watching Sidney Crosby walk out of the City of Brotherly Love with six points and two victories in a pair of playoff games. 

“It’s disappointing,” Dave Hakstol said. “You take that upon yourself. Bluntly, we’re not happy about it. It wasn’t good enough.”

The Flyers may have fed off the home crowd for one period on Sunday afternoon, but even as they barraged the Penguins with constant pressure, they still found themselves down 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes. After a slew of penalties in the second period, the Flyers were never the same.

Disapproval poured down Wednesday when the Flyers flopped on their power play, which finished 0 for 10 in the two games on home ice, and the crowd of 19,644 booed unmercifully as the horn sounded after each period.

With the Wells Fargo Center half empty midway through the third period, the postseason frenzy felt more like a preseason yawner. 

“Fire Hakstol” chants could be heard from the upper deck — the first time that phrase echoed throughout the building since the 10-game winless streak in November.

Prior to this week, the lasting memory of a playoff series against Pittsburgh was Claude Giroux decking Crosby on the opening shift of Game 6 in 2012 and then proceeding to score the first goal as the Flyers eliminated their cross-state rival.

For whatever reason, the Flyers never evolved into a dominant team on home ice this season. The Flyers' 22 wins were the fewest of the 16 teams to reach the postseason and even three non-playoff teams finished with better records at home.  

At times, the Flyers played too cute or tried to execute too perfectly in their building, but in this series, it was just too ugly.

“Earn Tomorrow” was the Flyers' playoff slogan coming into this series.

After what the Wells Fargo Center witnessed this week, a chance at tomorrow may be too much to bear.