They outdid Pittsburgh in everything at the start.
They even scored first.
They had a three-goal lead after one period.
And still, the Flyers lost Thursday night to the Penguins because … well, because they stopped playing Flyer hockey and never got themselves going again in a 5-4 loss.
Essentially, the Flyers kissed away two points they absolutely, positively had to earn.
“We talked about it after the first period that the Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t going to sit back and hand over two points,” Scott Hartnell said. “They were going to come hard.
“Low and behold, before you know it, it’s 4-4. We just can’t do that. It’s embarrassing to the fans, embarrassing to one another, and we let another two points slip away … It was a big letdown. I don’t know why we would have stopped playing.”
That’s 18 times now in the past 24 matchups between these two that the road team won.
Peter Laviolette’s club came into the week in eighth place. This latest loss drops them to 11th in the Eastern Conference standings.
Worse, the games this week against the “Big Three” so far have been a disaster.
The Flyers needed to get four of six points from their games against the Rangers, Penguins and Bruins before meeting Buffalo on Sunday. All they can get now is two on Saturday in Boston.
“When you have a 4-1 lead, the game is in your hands big time,” Kimmo Timonen said. “What happens in the second period, we go on the ice and we’re not there for some reason.
“That’s the mental issue to me. Somebody might [have] a different opinion. You have to be mentally prepared to go in there and do you job, [even] if it’s 4-1 or 1-4.
“Never change your game. That seems to be an issue for us, either way with the score.”
It really puts the pressure on for a win in Beantown.
“Go into Boston with a do-or-die attitude,” Hartnell said. “We’ve been saying it but now it’s time to get out there and back up our words and get a decisive win.
“We played a great 20, but 20 doesn’t get you anything these days.”
Ironically, the game-winner came off a turnover.
Eighteen seconds into the third period, Timonen tried to contain a puck at center ice and instead it came back the other way with Chris Kunitz scoring his second goal of the night, breaking the 4-4 tie.
“I tried to keep in,” Timonen said. “[Sidney] Crosby fell down and there’s a loose puck. I try to get it by the guy and he was close to me. That’s my mistake. I should have played it safe.”
Hartnell appeared to retie it with 12:53 left but the official ruled “no goal,” saying his stick was higher than the crossbar.
Laviolette felt the third period lacked “jam,” as well.
“Even going out for the third period and the score is 4-4,” Laviolette said. “Being able to finish off games.
“We have to do a better job than what we’ve done this year. We’ve had a lot of tie games and situations to win games and they’ve slipped away.”
Though the Flyers started out strong with a 6-1 shot advantage, all the real action came into the final 9:45 of the first period. It was 4-1, thanks largely to James Neal taking three penalties.
Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury seemed to have trouble the entire period with his catching glove, while Zac Rinaldo needed just a fight to get a Gordie Howe hat trick.
Tomas Vokoun started the second period for Fleury and finished the game.
Jakub Voracek began and ended the opening period with a power-play goal.
Neal’s early elbow to Claude Giroux caused Hartnell to say something to him after Voracek’s first goal and then the two tried to fight, with Hartnell picking up an extra minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Pens' lone goal that period came off the resulting power play as Kunitz's first goal. He’s on a tear with six goals over his last five games.
Rinaldo gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead at 15:06, rebounding Nick Grossmann’s point shot just as a Flyer power play expired.
The Flyers scored twice in the final 1:43 with Timonen beating Fleury shortside, and then Voracek picking up his 19th point in 10 games with a shot off Paul Martin’s skate at 19:52, making it 4-1.
In retrospect, Neal seemingly took the Penguins out of the game. His slash on Flyer goalie Ilya Bryzgalov after a puck had been whistled dead was totally unnecessary.
Still, Pittsburgh came roaring back with two goals less than three minutes apart and then tied it by the end of the middle stanza.
“The effort is there but we need to execute out there,” Giroux said. “We have to find a way to close a game up. We knew they were a good team offensively …”
The second period began with Pascal Dupuis scoring at 5:30.
Mental mistakes plagued the Flyers against the Rangers on Tuesday and here, as well, with Braydon Coburn leaving Evgeni Malkin alone in the slot to take a Neal pass across the goal line from the corner.
As Coburn raced over too late, the puck caught his skate into the net. Just like that, it was a one-goal game.
Tyler Kennedy’s long-distance shot at 15:47 tied it, chasing Bryzgalov for Brian Boucher.
“You go from a real strong first period to an inconsistent second period that ends up costing you a [game],” Laviolette said. “Certainly, it’s not where we want to be.”
And yet, it’s exactly where the Flyers have been all season.
They outdid Pittsburgh in everything at the start.