The series was there for the taking.
Leading the Penguins late in the second period, the Flyers had visions of taking two out of three in this week’s “series’’ and putting some distance in the standings on their cross-state rivals.
But then the mistakes reared their not-so-pretty heads.
First, the usually steady Brian Elliott allowed a Zach Aston-Reese shot from somewhere on the other side of the Allegheny River to slip through his pads, tying the score late in the second period.
Then, in the third period, the Flyers executed a line change resembling something out of peewee hockey, with Nolan Patrick and Jake Voracek heading to the bench as the Penguins streamed up ice.
That led to the go-ahead goal and the Penguins went on to a 4-3 win Saturday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena, taking the rubber game of the series and pulling into a tie with Philly for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NHL’s East Division.
At least the Flyers could head home with that dramatic Thursday night four-goal rally (4-3 win) in their pockets but it was small consolation.
Coach Alain Vigneault looked and sounded a bit frustrated by the unfortunate turn of events.
But there’s not much time to rue the defeat. The Flyers complete a six-games-in-nine-days stretch on Sunday night when the Washington Capitals visit.
Not much time to re-group, right?
Back to that line change: Not good execution on the Flyers’ part.
“It was just a bad change on our part,’’ Vigneault said. “Our forwards thought it was a two-on-two (it wasn’t). They (the Penguins) changed quicker than we did.
“We should have had at least one forward come back to help out our ‘D’ to even the rush. But (our) forwards came to the bench (a weary Oskar Lindblom stayed on) and it ended in the back of our net.’’
Vigneault sounded grateful the Flyers were at least able to get out of town with two points.
“We found a way to win the second one,’’ he said. “We were right there, two teams, same schedule. . .a little sloppy play out there from both sides (on Saturday).
“It’s going to be a fine line one way or the other. Unfortunately, their third goal was a bad goal that Brian would like to have back. And their fourth goal was a bad change on our part. They made us pay on a couple of our mistakes. We were right there but we made one mistake that cost us the game.’’
Travis Konecny scored his first goal in nine games to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the first period. He now has nine points in five games against the Penguins this season.
“I actually thought we played a pretty good game,’’ he said. “There’s some stuff to clean up obviously. But all in all, I thought we gave a good effort.’’
Added Joel Farabee: “Obviously you want to come in here and try to sweep all three games. But it’s a pretty tough league, they’re a really good team. I thought that third period could have gone either way.’’
>Fans returning to Wells Fargo Center
For the first time in nearly a year, fans will be returning to the Wells Fargo Center for the Washington game. An estimated 3,800 spectators will be allowed into the building.
The Flyers look forward to getting some energy from the stands, even if it’s a rather reduced crowd.
“It’s been a while since we had fans at the Wells Fargo,’’ Farabee said. “We’re really excited to have them back. It’s really nice to feel their energy, it helps us. We’re looking forward to it.’’
>Farabee, Prosser return to action
Farabee, who missed Thursday’s game due to COVID protocol, returned to action, perhaps a bit earlier than people expected. Veteran defenseman Nate Prosser also made only his second appearance since signing as a free agent in the offseason.
Prosser replaced Phil Myers, who was sidelined after taking a hard hit to his upper body in Thursday night’s game.
Vigneault indicated Myers remains on day-to-day status.
Michael Raffl suffered a hand injury during the game and his status for the Washington game is still up in the air.
>Why are special teams still an issue?
With all the talent on the Flyers’ roster, the question remains why both their penalty kill and power play continue to reside at or near the bottom third of the NHL rankings.
The Flyers gave up two power-play goals on Saturday and the Penguins made both of them look rather easy. While the Flyers did get a power-play goal from Kevin Hayes, they didn’t generate much on their other three chances.
>Voracek gets 500th assist
Voracek broke loose a puck, then raced to the net to screen Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry in the second period, setting up Shayne Gostisbehere’s goal for a 3-2 Flyers’ lead.
It was the 500th assist of Voracek’s career, 405 of them with the Flyers. . .Sean Couturier’s career-high eight-game point streak came to an end.