This was game the Flyers needed to win.
A team they were more than capable of beating.
Two points they absolutely had to have if they’re going to reclaim the wild card they so carelessly tossed aside in the past month.
And it was all lost when they became unglued over a bad penalty, then an even worse call, during a tied game late in the second period.
Poof! Two goals later, it’s 3-1 New Jersey as the Flyers collapsed in a 4-1 loss Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center to the Devils and slipped one point behind Toronto (51) in the wild card (see Instant Replay).
Veteran referee Dan O’Halloran, who calls an honest game, whistled Radko Gudas for clipping on a legal hip check for a Devils power play.
Then, Flyer MVP candidate Wayne Simmonds argued and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct call.
New Jersey scored on the subsequent 5-on-3 power play, then the Devils added a bad goal off a horrendous line change in the final 48 ticks of the stanza to completely change the complexion of the game.
“I’ll take blame for that,” Simmonds said. “I didn’t agree with the [Gudas] penalty, I got an extra two that’s my fault. They score a goal, make it 2-1, that’s a momentum changer, I take all of the blame for that.”
O’Halloran should have warned Simmonds to walk away, but didn’t. That’s what a good, veteran official does. He blew it. Twice.
“What was said both ways?” Simmonds asked. “The referee was talking to me; I was talking to him. I am not commenting on calls; it is what it is. It happened, it’s over with now. I am not going to say anything about that.”
That the Flyers collapsed so easily at that point just goes to show you how vulnerable and how fragile this team is right now. This was fifth loss in six games for Dake Hakstol's squad.
“It’s a turning point in the hockey game, but no one play or one situation dictates a hockey game,” Hakstol insisted.
Indeed, the poor line change was just as bad or worse. Jakub Voracek was going off the ice at the blue line when the puck was unexpectedly tossed at his feet.
“I didn’t [expect it] and tried to redirect it and it kinda fumbled and we changed and they got a breakaway out of it,” Voracek said.
Miles Wood sped past several Flyers up the right side on Michal Neuvirth, who had not had to make a momentum save till then. He couldn’t. It was 3-1.
If Voracek gets the puck deep enough, the entire sequence is voided.
“It’s two-fold,” countered Hakstol. “It’s the turnover and not being able to get the puck deep. And then it’s the line change.”
A lot of bad things are happening to the Flyers right now. Just a little adversity seems to collapse them like a house of cards.
That wasn’t the case in December when they won 10 games in succession.
“When you lose so many games, you lose confidence,” said Neuvirth, who was pulled for “precautionary reasons” said general manager Ron Hextall, as Steve Mason played the final period.
Neuvirth was limping after the game after tweaking his left knee again, sources said.
“For us it was a tough break to come back, the Devils playing really good hockey, but I think we got to keep believing and keep pushing forward. I still believe in this group,” Neuvirth said.
Question is, do they believe in each other?
Even after giving up the game’s first goal, the Flyers came back tied it, 1-1, on a jam-in goal past Keith Kinkaid by Travis Konecny, had some momentum, then lost everything in that brutal second period.
That’s not to say they didn’t have their chances. Six power plays? No goal? Then again, the power play is 0-for-11 over the past two games. Claude Giroux’s first unit was awful in this one.
And then there’s eight penalties the Flyers took, as well.
“Yeah, we had penalty trouble,” Konecny said. “I think it has kind of crept into our game in the past four or five games. It is not like it is one specific guy. Everyone is taking penalties. We are working hard, and some of those penalties are working hard.
“There are some things we can clean up a little bit, but at the same time when we have taken penalties our guys have been great. You can’t stop everyone. Everyone’s got good power plays and our guys have been phenomenal on the PK. We just have to take a little less.”
“It’s tough," Neuvrith added. "Seems like taking bad penalties at the wrong times and it’s costing us the games.”
Hakstol insists the team’s confidence hasn’t waned even if it seems that’s exactly what has happened.
“No, I’ve answered that question before,” Hakstol said with a certain amount of irritation. “It’s hard, if we want to rest on confidence sagging, that’s the wrong answer. Our answer is pull together, dig in and get back to work.”