PHILADELPHIA – It has to be a little demoralizing to keep taking leads against your turnpike rivals and then handing games away.
The Flyers and the New Jersey Devils traded haymakers at the Wells Fargo Center in a contest that went down to the wire.
When the ice chips settled, the Devils had a 5-4 shootout win, ending the Flyers’ four-game winning streak.
The Flyers took leads of 3-1 and 4-2 but fell into a 4-4 tie when Taylor Hall scored with 1:21 to play.
Then Drew Stafford scored in the shootout and the Flyers wound up on the short end of a 5-4 sore.
Goalie Michal Neuvirth, starting what could be the first of what could be a lot of games over the next weeks while Brian Elliott recovers from core muscle surgery, was good at times and not so good at others.
A power-play goal by Claude Giroux at 16:09 of the second period provided the Flyers with a 4-2 lead. But it went downhill from there.
It’s the second time the Flyers have given up an important goal in the last 90 seconds of a game against the Devils.
Back on Feb. 1, the Flyers took a 3-2 lead into the third period at New Jersey and eventually lost, 4-3, on a Devils goal with 1:27 to play.
“Hall kind of got lost there behind the net and they got a bounce,’’ explained Giroux of the tying goal. “There’s not much we could have done. It’s definitely frustrating. They’re a team that’s in the race with us. It’s two points we could have used.’’
Scott Laughton acknowledged the missed opportunity as well.
“We can’t give up chances late in a game like that,’’ he said. “I think we need to get those two points.’’
Instead of leading the Devils by five points, the edge is back to just two.
After compiling a mark of 18-0-2 when leading after two periods, the Flyers are now 20-1-4.
“We have to stay on our toes more and get after them,’’ Laughton said. “It’s a tough situation when we give up that late goal. I thought we had a pretty good OT. They did it to us in Jersey the last game. . .we just have to get back on the horse.’’
Travis Konecny gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 1:54 of the first when Giroux sent him in on a break for a shot past Keith Kinkaid.
But the Devils came back to tie it at 4:06 of the second on a goal by Hall, who beat Neuvirth from a wide angle. On the play, Radko Gudas sent Hall hard into the end boards, forcing Hall out of play.
Taylor, however, wasn’t done for the night. He would come back to score that critical late goal in the third.
Just 43 seconds later, Laughton converted a set-up from Michael Raffl to make it 2-1.
Then Gudas scored on a long shot through a screen at 10:36 for a 3-1 lead. It was the second straight game Gudas registered a goal after scoreless in his first 43 games.
The Devils cut it to 3-2 before the Giroux goal. Then New Jersey needed just 10 seconds after Giroux scored to make it 4-3 going into the third period.
For better or worse, the Flyers are going to see a lot of Neuvirth in the next six weeks.
The question is: Can he stay healthy? He hasn’t started three consecutive games all season.
“We felt like we should have won that game,’’ he said. “It is what it is. It’s tough to swallow right now.’’
Can he prove the people wrong who say he can’t make it through an extended stretch of games?
“Obviously the schedule is very tough with the travel,’’ he said. “I’m definitely going to do that (try to convince people he can stay in play).’’
Coach Dave Hakstol won’t have much choice but to play Neuvirth a lot over these last 25 games. Alex Lyon is an unproven commodity and points are extremely valuable at this point.
“We have all the confidence in the world in ‘Neuvy,’+’’ Hakstol said. “He’s done a good job for us two nights in a row.’’