What good is it to beat one of the best teams in hockey one day, only to lose to one of the worst teams the next?
Judging by the stunned expressions on the faces of the Flyers in post-game interviews on Sunday, the answer was: Practically nothing.
All the hard work the Flyers put into Saturday’s encouraging 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins pretty much went down the drain in a follow-up matinee performance against the lowly Buffalo Sabres.
And the shocking part is, the Sabres needed less than three minutes to score three goals and turn a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
With a chance to cut Boston’s lead over the Flyers from four points to two, Philadelphia choked at clutch time. Pending the Bruins’ night game against Washington, the Flyers could find themselves back to a six-point deficit.
After playing nearly 57 minutes of relatively mistake-free hockey, the Flyers came unwound like a cheap watch.
First came a goal from Jeff Skinner with 3:03 to play when goaltender Carter Hart fumbled a shot by Victor Olofsson and Skinner muscled his way past defenseman Robert Hagg.
In a sense, a needless icing infraction by the Flyers preceding the goal started the unraveling.
The play, which included the net coming off and possible goaltender interference, survived video review and tied the score at 3-3.
Still reeling from that play, the Flyers needed just 25 seconds to surrender the winning goal by Rasmus Asplund off another rebound. Buffalo put it away with an empty-net goal in the final seconds.
All things seemed to be going the Flyers’ way in a first period which saw them take a 2-0 lead on goals by Oskar Lindblom and Joel Farabee.
Buffalo did square things up with goals by Sam Reinhart and Risto Ruotsalainen in the first five minutes of the second period but the Flyers thought they were on their way home with a goal from Shayne Gostisbehere at 3:57 of the third.
What went wrong after that?
“It’s hard to explain,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said in a post-game media Zoom call. “We had that game in total control. We were giving them almost nothing.
“Just an icing that we didn’t need to do, locked the puck in our end, in the corner. They found a way to jump on one of their rebounds. We just didn’t get it done.’’
The Flyers made much of the win over Boston as sort of a “season saver.’’ But with this loss, where does that leave them now?
“It (the Buffalo loss) is a tough one to take,’’ Vigneault said. “I thought we played extremely well in the first period. It was 2-2 going into the third, I liked the looks we were getting. Then we had some breakdowns. I’ll tell you more later.’’
As for the third and fourth goals, Vigneault was willing to point the finger at a particular set of players.
“. . .Things that you can’t do in this league,’’ he said. “Things that we did tonight by some of our most experienced players.’’
Defenseman Travis Sanheim wound up the game a minus-3 and seven players were a minus-2.
Gostisbehere was asked if this was the most frustrating loss of the season.
“We had a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead and we just let it slip away,’’ he said. “It definitely hurts right now for sure. But I don’t know what else you can do. We have to move on, get some points in the next game.’’
Farabee shared that sentiment.
“It’s frustrating right now,’’ he said. “I don’t think it was (fatigue, the Flyers just finished five games in seven days). We had a really good start in the third, we had good energy and some bounces just didn’t go our way.’’
>Giroux: Giving up two late goals just can’t happen
Captain Claude Giroux put some of the blame for this loss on mental mistakes.
“It’s very frustrating, especially where we are right now (in the standings),’’ he said. “That can’t just happen.’’
Hart also had trouble coping with the ending.
“It’s tough losing a game like that in that fashion,’’ he said. “Blowing a lead. . .but we have to get back at it on Tuesday against a good hockey club (Washington).’’
>Why do the Flyers have trouble putting two big wins together?
It’s been happening all year. The Flyers just can’t seem to string wins together, particularly after they register a big win over a contending team.
“Good question,’’ Giroux said. “Last year we did a good job of being consistent. This year it’s been a problem. It’s frustrating. I think the last five or so we didn’t win all of them but we had a good effort. Until they scored those two goals I thought we were playing a good game.’’
>Trade deadline looming
The Flyers know there’s a chance the team will be trading players away rather than bringing them here. The trade deadline is 3 p.m. Monday.
“It’s the unknown, not knowing who’s going to be here,’’ Giroux said. “Or, what the future has for us. But it’s out of our control. It’s not on us to make those decisions.’’
>Remembering Ed Snider
Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of the passing of Ed Snider, the Flyers’ founder and owner since the team’s inception.
Giroux, who was drafted by the Flyers in 2006 and is now the franchise’s longest serving captain, said Snider had a positive impact on everyone.
“He’s Mr. Flyer,’’ Giroux said. “I was talking to some of the guys that have been here for a while and we just thought it was crazy how it’s been five years already.
“We miss him and we know he’s watching and for us to lose this game tonight, it’s not fun.’’