PHILADELPHIA – It wasn’t just that they lost, but the way they lost, which made it so extra painful.
After taking a 4-2 lead late into the second period, the Flyers surrendered five unanswered goals Sunday and saw their season come to an end with a Game 6, 8-5 defeat at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers were hoping to force a Game 7 back in Pittsburgh.
Instead, they will have plenty of time this summer to reflect on another first-round exit from the playoffs.
Philadelphia has now failed to get out of the opening round for six straight seasons dating back to 2012.
A turnover by defenseman Ivan Provorov led to Pittsburgh’s go-ahead goal just 30 seconds into the third period for a 5-4 Penguin lead.
Jake Guentzel scored the second goal of his four goals for the game off an assist from Phil Kessel. Guentzel would go on to add two more goals to push the goal total to seven and eventually it would end at eight.
Why couldn’t the Flyers hang on to that two-goal lead and what was the difference in the series?
“It’s tough to explain why, probably different reasons,’’ said Sean Couturier, who scored a hat trick despite playing with a torn ligament in his right knee. “Early in the series we didn’t play our best.
“Today we let a two-goal lead slip. Shouldn’t happen in the playoffs. We’ll learn from it and become a stronger group next year.’’
The post-game locker room was downcast but not distraught. They knew coming into the series they were heavy underdogs but after winning Game 5 in such determined fashion, there was hope of taking the series to the limit.
“Yeah, obviously frustrating,’’ Andrew MacDonald said. “I thought we played a pretty good game. We had some breakdowns and stuff but obviously that ended up costing us. I like our fight, the way we battled throughout the game. We played really well for some great stretches.”
Claude Giroux finished with just three points (a goal and two assists) for the series. Disappointing to say the least.
“Yeah, it’s never fun,’’ he said. “This group is pretty special, looking back at that west coast trip when we lost 10 in a row and we weren’t even close to making the playoffs or in the picture and regrouped, played better, fought back to make the playoffs.
“Obviously right now it’s not the result we’re looking for, but you know what? This group went through a lot this year, pretty proud of everyone in this locker room.’’
The game started off somewhat promising for the Flyers.
With Provorov (injured late in Game 5) back on the ice, the Flyers came out with lots of energy.
That carried over into the second period.
The Flyers hustled to score a pair of goals in that second period but all the good work was washed away by a pair of Penguin goals late in the period which tied the score at 4-4.
With the score tied 2-2, Couturier scored the second of his three goals at the 40-second mark.
The centerman got behind the check of Patric Hornqvist, broke in, faked a backhand, then shoveled a puck on his forehand past Matt Murray.
Scott Laughton made it 2-0 at 12:14. He took a perfect lead pass circle.
That ended a 27-game goal drought for Laughton dating back to Feb. 18.
But the Penguins didn’t need long to even the count.
First, Sidney Crosby triggered a tic-tac-toe play, with Guentzel sliding a pass across the slot for Hornqvist’s shot past Michal Neuvirth.
Then, with only 54 seconds left in the period, the Flyers (namely Radko Gudas) struggled to clear the puck from the defensive zone.
That led to Olli Maata’s shot into traffic. The Flyers tried to cover the puck but couldn’t and Guentzel jammed it into the net.
Couturier started the Flyers off on the right foot with a goal at 2:15 of the first.
Laughton beat the Pens to a possible icing call and fed Wayne Simmonds in front. His entry was blocked but Chad Ruhwedel’s clear attempt was stopped by Couturier and the puck found its way into the net.
Crosby responded for the Penguins at 6:30. Valtteri Filppula lost a faceoff in the right circle and Crosby was able to clean up the rebound of Kris Letang’s shot at the right side for his sixth goal of the postseason.
Just 47 seconds later, Carl Hagelin scored when both defensemen (MacDonald and Shayne Gostisbehere) chased behind the net. When Nolan Patrick failed to cover Hagelin in front, Kessel was able to get him the puck for a dunk past Neuvirth.
Throughout the series, the Flyers would score, only to have Pittsburgh to come back quickly and punch them right in the mouth.
Not the recipe for an upset.
Ultimately, the Flyers will learn from this and get better. This was sort of a playoff coming out party for players such as Couturier.
“Yeah, he’s a warrior,’’ Simmonds said. “He’s been our best complete player all year. I think he definitely deserves the Selke Trophy (NHL best defensive forward), in my opinion. The things he’s done this year and the way he handled himself after missing a game there. He came back and was the best player on the ice. He’s been unbelievable for us. I can go on about Coots forever.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol admired the way his team battled to the finish.
“A 4-2 lead, the things that came back to get us are what cost us on the third and fourth goals,’’ Hakstol said. “They’re a good team. If you make mistakes, if you give them the puck back too easily, they can make you pay quickly. And they did that to the game at the end of the second period.’’
The 28 goals scored by Pittsburgh were the most ever scored against the Flyers in a six-game series and tied the most for any series (five games vs. the Rangers in 1979).