PHILADELPHIA – You could see the letdown coming a mile away.
After knocking off three of the four best teams in the NHL – including the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in a white-knuckle OT thriller on Wednesday night – the Flyers were primed to lay a big emotional egg a night later.
And that’s exactly what they did, despite warnings well before the game, which they lost to the visiting, barely .500 Montreal Canadiens, 4-1, at the Wells Fargo Center.
True, they got off to a good start, getting a goal from Joel Farabee with 1:13 left in the first period and looking like they might take that 1-0 lead into the initial intermission.
Instead, they gave up a goal to Montreal’s Tomas Tatar with only 55 seconds left in the period and then made things worse by surrendering goals to Ilya Kovalchuk (the first of two for this game) and Arturri Lehkonen just 11 seconds apart early in the second period.
Emergency starting goalie Alex Lyon, filling in for injured Carter Hart (out two to three weeks with a lower abdominal strain), really didn’t get much defensive support.
Meanwhile, goalie Carey Price was outstanding for Montreal.
After the game, at least three players said they were aware of the prospect of a letdown but didn’t do much about it.
“It’s natural, when you play a top team in the league (St. Louis),’’ Matt Niskanen said. “And you have an emotional win. As much as you try to fight it, it’s going to be a little bit of a letdown, playing a team like that (Montreal).
“We were fighting that tonight. You certainly don’t want it to happen and we have to find a way to get over that the next time that happens. Missed opportunity.’’
Claude Giroux had a feeling this was going to be a challenging game.
“They (the past four games) were big games for us,’’ Giroux said. “We played well in all of them. A game like last night, we go to St. Louis and get a big, emotional win.
“Sometimes after an emotional win, it’s kind of tough to get up the next day. But it’s no excuse. We didn’t play our game, we didn’t play well. It’s two points we let go here.’’
Kovalchuk’s goal was set up by a questionable hooking call against Kevin Hayes. Kovalchuk was standing on Lyon’s doorstep when the goalie was unable to control the rebound of a Shea Weber point shot. That goal went in at 2:08.
Lehkonen then gave the Canadiens even more breathing room by scoring from close range.
The one bright spot of the first 40 minutes was the goal by Farabee, who was briefly assigned to the Phantoms on Wednesday in a technical salary move to allow Lyon to be brought up from Allentown.
Farabee scored off a Connor Bunnaman rebound when Price couldn’t control the bouncing puck.
“The puck kind of came out to me and I knew there was a lot of traffic and I knew their goalie was probably going to be sliding so that’s why I tried to go five-hole,’’ Farabee said. “It was a good play, ‘Pits’ (Tyler Pitlick) and ‘Bunns’ (Bunnaman) were right in front of the net, too, so that definitely helped.”
Farabee agreed with his teammates that a letdown was almost unavoidable.
“It’s tough,’’ he said. “You know you play these top teams, you get so emotionally involved. Then you come back, this is a big game but the flight and so forth definitely takes a toll.
“I think we had definitely more to offer that game. At the end of the day, we need a better effort.’’
The Flyers managed to unleash 19 shots in the second period but Price appeared to have everything under control.
In the third, Kovalchuk unloaded a rocket from the slot to make it 4-1.
Lyon said he had to do a better job on that two-goal salvo early in the second period that broke the game open.
“I thought my brain fell asleep a little bit in the second (period) there for about five minutes,’’ he said. “That was a real dagger. But good learning experience. Just going to try to build momentum, confidence moving forward.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t having any talk of letdowns. He noted every team in the NHL is capable of beating another. You can’t take opponents, no matter who they are, too lightly.
“These are big games,’’ he said. “There’s almost nothing separating teams. Tonight it’s a couple plays. . .I understand emotionally, but points are the same. Last night’s game was worth two points, tonight was worth two. You have to get up for it, you have to get yourself ready. It’s going to be a battle.’’
Philadelphia is now 4-4-2 in the second half of back-to-backs. . .The Flyers entered the game 13-1-1 in their last 15 home games against Montreal.