BOSTON – The Flyers outhustled, outworked, and even outlucked a team that had rest, home-ice, and the momentum of a four-game winning streak on its side.
This was the kind of game that can spring a slumping team, and yet it ended as the four previous ones had, with the Flyers on the wrong end of a 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, beaten by Brad Marchand's second-chance goal with 22 seconds left in the game, muscling out Sean Couturier after Flyers goaltender Alex Lyon had made the original save.
"Hard to swallow," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said afterward. "It was a point we felt we deserved. Our guys worked their tails off and it's hard when you have nothing to show for it at the end of the night."
The Flyers scored on a power play for only the second time in their last 24 chances. They not only killed all three Boston penalties, Jori Lehtera tied the game in the second period with a shorthanded goal, only their third this season. Up to and including the winning score, Alex Lyon's steady play in goal (24 saves) belied his coach's lack of trust.
And yet when it was over they were worse off than when it began, at least in the standings. Still, said Hakstol, who often speaks about grabbing points on off nights, "we took a big step in the right direction. We got back to who we are tonight. Sometimes you get stripped down to your core on the back-to-backs. That was he case tonight, but the guys dug down. We played a pretty simple road game and everybody dug in.
"We didn't get points out of it. But for sure this is our best 60 minutes in the last five games. And probably significantly longer than that."
It began with a wild first-period, indicative of two well-rested teams, not one. The Bruins had not played since a 6-5 overtime victory over Detroit on Tuesday night, and the Flyers, who finished so tepidly in their 5-2 loss to the Penguins the night before, unleashed all that stored-up energy. They created turnovers, Wayne Simmonds drew a four-minute major when Kevin Miller clipped his toothless mouth with his stick, and Jake Voracek, from a sweet between-the-legs feed from Nolan Patrick, gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead just 1 minute, 38 seconds into the first period.
And then came the kind of errors that seemed to doom their season in November and have threatened to do so in March. With plenty of time to flip the puck from his own zone, Patrick was instead stripped near the blue line, and the 20 seconds of mayhem that followed, punctuated by a few sprawling saves by Lyon, resulted in a Riley Nash goal at 9:14.
Brian Gionta, who was signed by the Bruins after unretiring to captain the U.S. Olympic team, scored on a breakaway at 19:34 of the first period to give Boston a 2-1 lead, negating the Flyers' 16-10 shot advantage, and the feel-good nature of their period. That goal began with Simmonds getting tripped by Tommy Wingels while he had the puck in the offensive zone, and was compounded when the defense pair of Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas lost track of the 39-year-old sniper.
In the eight goals allowed during these back-to-backs, five have been scored within the last two minutes of the period. It was toxic both nights, but last night particularly so.
"It is frustrating," said Ivan Provorov, who was on the ice for Marchand's winning goal. "It's hockey. It happens. But we've got to learn from that and find a way not to give up those goals."
The Flyers regained some momentum with a strong second period, highlighted by Lehtera's shorthanded goal at 7:21 that trickled through the pads of Tuukka Rask, who had not played in a week because of an injury. It was Lehtera's third goal of the season, but his second this month.
When the second period ended, the Flyers had outshot their rested hosts 26-17, and outhustled them, and yet were tied at 2.