NEW YORK – Somewhere between Flatbush and Cropsey avenues in Brooklyn, the Flyers’ bus must have gotten lost.
Because it didn’t appear like the Philadelphia team arrived at Tuesday night’s game against the New York Islanders until the third period.
After a horrible second period, in which they surrendered three unanswered goals, the Flyers came back in the third on a pair of Nolan Patrick power-play goals and another by Claude Giroux to tie the score at 4-4.
But the comeback was all for naught as Matthew Barzal scored the second of two goals just 28 seconds after the Giroux goal to give the Islanders a 5-4 win at the Barclays Center.
Losing to non-playoff teams in recent weeks is nothing new to the Flyers. They’ve lost games to Detroit, Dallas and now the Islanders, which certainly hasn’t helped their cause.
And with Columbus and New Jersey winning on Tuesday night, the Flyers have fallen to the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
To make matters worse for the Flyers, ninth-place Florida defeated Nashville and closed to within four points of Philadelphia and hold a game in hand.
All of which it makes it almost mandatory that the Flyers get wins in their final two games – home contests against Carolina on Thursday and the Rangers on Saturday.
Why did the Flyers come out so flat? Were they feeling the “nerves’’ of a possible playoff clinching situation?
“We didn’t initiate anything in the first 20 minutes,’’ coach Dave Hakstol said. “We couldn’t engage in the game. The second period, just our play with the puck got us. It cost us.’’
Clearly the Flyers came up small in a big spot.
“This game is not what we need, obviously,’’ Hakstol said. “We didn’t engage and some of these games you have to initiate that. Find a way to initiate it and we didn’t do that tonight.’’
The Flyers will play non-playoff teams in the Hurricanes and Rangers, so this recent trend has to change.
“We have to do a much better job coming back into our building two nights from now in terms of initiating the game,’’ Hakstol said. “That’s the bottom line.’’
Barzal’s winning goal was particularly vexing because the usually steady Ivan Provorov pinched deep when he probably shouldn’t have and no one – including center Jori Lehtera – got back in time to cover Provorov’s back.
“We got beat up ice on our backcheck,’’ said Hakstol, relieving Provorov of some of the blame. “When you have a reload in the middle of the rink, the pinch by Provy is an aggressive one but he’s got coverage in the middle of the rink.
“But Barzal’s speed beats us up ice.’’
The Flyers’ only goal of the first two periods came off the stick of Wayne Simmonds with 53 seconds left in the first period.
John Tavares led the second period charge with the second of his two goals at 11:06 with a shot past Flyers’ goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Anthony Beauvillier also scored at 3:43 for a 2-1 lead and set up Barzal’s first goal at 16:27.
The Flyers finally woke up in the third, with Patrick scoring on the man advantage at 4:07 and again at 8:16 against goaltender Thomas Greiss.
Then Giroux connected with a shot from the slot at 13:04.
However, the Flyers couldn’t keep the momentum going.
“They won more battles,’’ Sean Couturier offered. “Which is inexcusable at this time of year. The first 40 wasn’t good at all. We came back in the third but it’s not enough.’’
Patrick couldn’t explain the slow start.
“We were flat,’’ he said. “We weren’t playing our system. No jump to start the game. Not really acceptable this time of the year.’’
Mrazek tried his best on the Barzal goal but the kid is one of the most talented young players in the NHL.
“It was difficult for all of us, the first 40 minutes,’’ the goalie said. “They outplayed us. We played well in the third period. We tied it but came up short. I don’t think it was in our head we were close to playoffs. I think from the beginning of the year, everyone knows what is on the line.’’
Provorov summed up the frustration of not beating teams the Flyers should beat.
“Everytime we play a team that’s not playing so great, the first couple periods we don’t play as well as we want to,’’ he said. “We just give them the momentum and the puck. It’s just another one of those games where we didn’t play as well as we need to.’’
Added Giroux: “We didn’t play our game (first 40 minutes). We didn’t hustle and it cost us the game.’’