It was only one game. If youre a Flyers fan, youre no doubt repeating that to yourself right now.
By the time the game was over on Tuesday evening, the crowd was pretty thin. Many of the fans had fled the Wells Fargo Center much earlier and shuffled toward the exits with frowns on their faces while wondering what had just happened.
Those who remained to hear the final horn go off responded the way youd expect: they booed. Danny Briere probably wouldnt have blamed them for it. Judging by how dejected Briere seemed, he might have even joined them.
After the Flyers fell to the Devils, 4-1, and let New Jersey tie the Eastern Conference Semifinals at a game apiece (see story), various players talked to the media. Briere was one of them. He spoke softly, but the words he chose were anything but delicate.
We didnt deserve it, Briere said candidly. If it wasnt for Ilya Bryzgalov, we didnt deserve to be up after two periods. At the beginning of the third period, we sat back way too much. Their desperation, they got rewarded for it. Its disappointing.
"Bryz is the only one who really showed up tonight. Im sure hes disappointed just like the rest of us. When you get to the playoffs, it doesnt matter who plays well and who doesnt. At the end of the night, the only thing that matters is a win.
So much for that. Earlier on Tuesday, after the Flyers morning skate, Briere talked about how important it was for the Flyers to win the first two games of the series the way they did against Pittsburgh. He called that a major step, and he was right. In their history, the Flyers are 18-0 when winning the first two games of a series; they are 17-15 when being tied 1-1 after Game 2.
Win those first two games, Briere said, and then you only have to win only two of the remaining five. That was the plan. Boxers, the good and smart ones, the ones who study the fight game and their opponents tendencies, will tell you that everyone has a plan before he enters the ring. They will also tell you that the plan changes pretty quickly once you get hit.
The Flyers protected themselves and covered up for much of Tuesday evening -- or rather Bryzgalov protected the Flyers well. He kept his guard raised and helped the teams sluggish offense -- which mustered little after an early first-period goal by Matt Read on an impossible angle -- avoid a brutal blow. Things were going well. And then the Flyers got hit -- several times, actually. And then their plan stopped working.
In the third period -- while Martin Brodeur was down at the other end of the ice filing his nails or making snow angels or eating a Flyers-shaped soft pretzel or doing whatever it is that goalies do when they arent tested and have time to idle -- Adam Larsson scored for the Devils. It was a long time coming, that goal.
Even without Ilya Kovalchuk, who missed the game with a lower body injury, the Flyers allowed the Devils to take an almost-absurd number of shots. New Jersey had 13 shots in the first period, 12 in the second and 10 more in the third. It made sense that one of them would eventually find the net.
But then David Clarkson scored after Larsson, and Travis Zajac scored after Clarkson, and Bryce Salvador scored after Zajac (albeit on an empty net). All of a sudden, that excellent effort Bryzgalov had -- he stopped 25 shots in the first two periods and 31 of 34 overall -- was for naught.
No one blamed Bryzgalov. Quite the contrary. To a man, they said he kept them in the game. Briere went further and said the goalie was the only one who showed up. But out of all the Flyers, Jaromir Jagr had the simplest explanation for the Flyers lackluster evening -- the simplest and the best:
They played very well, he said, and we didnt play well at all.
It was a hard point to argue. It was an ugly game for the Flyers, a lousy game, a game that was almost entirely devoid of energy and effort from beginning to end. But, then, it was only one game. Keep repeating that to yourself. It is probably a small comfort, but you take what you can get after nights like that.
E-mail John Gonzalez at email@example.com