VOORHEES, N.J. – Some people seem to think the Flyers aren’t trying hard enough.
Ron Hextall, Dave Hakstol and Claude Giroux beg to differ.
Heading into Friday night’s possible elimination game in Pittsburgh, the Flyers are pushing the idea that execution of their game plan is more important than simply working harder.
The Flyers are down 3-1 in this first-round, best-of-seven playoff series and only 9.3 percent of teams in NHL history have faced that deficit and lived to tell about it.
“You know what, I think our compete level is pretty good,’’ Giroux said after Thursday’s practice at the Skate Zone.
“I know it’s tough to see. I think the guys are working a little too hard, we’re not playing smart enough, gripping our sticks a little too much. I think we need to take a breather and play some hockey.’’
Giroux, himself, might be at the bow of that boat. He hasn’t scored a playoff goal in 11 straight playoff games dating back to 2014 against the New York Rangers.
Hextall said the Flyers’ failure so far isn’t due to lack of trying.
“It’s not compete,’’ Hextall said. “For us it’s execution. We’re not executing. We’re not making enough plays. We’re not showing up in the right spots. We’re not finishing. There’s a lot of little things that we’ve done wrong. It’s mostly execution.”
That said, the Flyers do have to look at the overall picture. They’ve been outscored 17-1 in their three losses, despite only a two-point difference in the regular-season standings.
“We’ve got to play well,’’ Hextall said. “That’s no secret. They’re a very good team and we’ve got to play well. There’s no doubt about it. You always have to play well in the playoffs. With 16 teams, you’re playing a good team in the first round.
“We know what they’ve done. We know they’ve won back to back and we need to play well. But again, we have to narrow our focus to tomorrow, winning one game, that’s it.”
If the Flyers lose on Friday night, it will mark six years since the Flyers won a playoff series.
Hextall gives the impression he doesn’t want to offer evaluations of his team – or the progress of his program – until the season is over.
“I don’t know,’’ he said. “Right now our focus is on Pittsburgh. They’re a very good team. They’ve played well, as I’ve mentioned, and we need to play better. We need to get some positive energy. When something bad happens, we need to react better.”
Hakstol agreed with the execution angle.
“We’ve got to tighten in, do the things we do,’’ he said, “and do them a little bit better.”
Giroux believes the Flyers can bring the series back to Philadelphia for a Game 6 on Sunday.
After all, there were a lot of doubters after the Flyers got bombed out of PPG Paints Arena to the tune of 7-0 in Game 1 last week and the orange and black responded with a resounding 5-1 win.
“Yeah, we’re not ready for our season to be over,’’ Giroux said. “ When we go to Pittsburgh, it’s a tough building to play in. We know we can win there. We know if we play our game, we can win. So we’re going to go out there, play our game and be back for Game 6.’’
“I think it’s believing in ourselves. All year we’ve done that. I know we’ve talked about it before but you lose in a row and you find a way to win the playoffs. . .not a lot of teams can do that. Just the fight in this team. Tomorrow is going to be a big game for us. If we go down, we’re going to go down swinging.’’
Then there’s Hakstol and what might be in his future if the Flyers go out meekly in Game 5.
Yes, he’s taken the Flyers to the playoffs in two of his three seasons. But, up to now, Philadelphia hasn’t been competitive in the 2016 Washington series or this one against Pittsburgh, up to now.
Perhaps the mood of the Flyers reflects nervousness about the situation.
“There’s a little bit of tension there, yet today we didn’t do a whole lot of talking,’’ Hakstol acknowledged. “The guys talked a little bit on their own, but today was a day to just go out and work for 30 or 35 minutes, clear the minds a little bit, get our bodies going.’’
No one has to remind the Flyers the gravity of their predicament.
“We all know where we’re at,’’ Hakstol said. “This team has had pretty good presence in terms of leadership in knowing the situation and handling the situation. It gets elevated as the year gets longer so every one of the situations gets more challenging. This is our most challenging. No question.
‘Not only in the fact that we’re in a must-win situation. Our guys have had the ability to break it down. We’re looking at one day tomorrow, we’re able to (handle) the things that are within our control, make sure we do a little bit better job than we have done the past two games.”