PHILADELPHIA – It didn’t end the way the Flyers would have liked but the comeback they put together in Sunday night’s game showed the kind of no-quit resilience they have.
Down 3-0 barely nine minutes into the match against the Winnipeg Jets, the Flyers scratched and clawed their way back with a goal in each period to level the score at 3.
But the rally came up a bit short as Winnipeg’s Karson Kuhlman scored at 8:44 of the third period to hand the Flyers a 5-3 loss at the Wells Fargo Center.
Once again, the Flyers missed on a chance to get over the .500 mark for the season. They fell back to 20-21-7.
Goaltender Felix Sandstrom, just recalled from the AHL Phantoms, surrendered the first three goals but then settled down after that, giving up that one late goal to Kuhlman. Winnipeg added an empty-net goal in the final minute.
A pair of power-play goals by Kevin Hayes, the first with 1:33 to play in the second period, and the second just 2:21 into the third period, evened the score at 3-3.
On the first goal, Hayes was set up along the goal line when a pass arrived in the right corner. Despite the sharp angle, the Flyer decided to shoot and the puck found its way into a small opening between goalie David Rittich and the post. In the third period, Hayes scored off the deflection of a Morgan Frost shot.
Hayes has played exactly 600 NHL games so this isn’t the first comeback that he’s seen fall short.
“We dug ourselves a hole there in the first,’’ Hayes said. “A couple lucky bounces and we’re down 3-0. We come back and tie it, feel good about ourselves and then we have to come back again and we couldn’t do it tonight.’’
The Jets roared off to that early 3-0 lead and needed only six shots to do it.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby got the parade started at 4:53 when he deflected a shot by Neal Pionk past Sandstrom. At 6:14, Kyle Connor finished off a two-on-one rush. Then Mark Schiefele made it 3-0 at 8:31 with a short-range shot for his 29th goal of the season.
The Flyers finally got on the board with 1:21 left in the period. Owen Tippett started a rush down the right side and spotted Ivan Provorov open coming down the slot. Rittich appeared to make the initial stop but Provorov’s momentum had enough force to push the puck across the goal line. After Winnipeg’s three-goal burst, Sandstrom settled down and did not allow a goal the rest of the way in that period as well as the second.
“He was huge in the second,’’ Hayes said. “He made some big saves that kept us in it. I haven’t seen the (fourth) goal, I’m sure he wants that one back but he was great tonight.’’
Sandstrom might have looked a little nervous at the start but after that, with the exception of the winning goal, looked pretty steady.
“A real bad play on my part,’’ Sandstrom said of Kuhlman’s goal. “Not the best performance in that situation.’’
The Flyers did a good job short-circuiting the Jets’ vaunted power play (0 for 4, including 38 seconds of a five-on-three).
“The guys did a great job reading the play,’’ Sandstrom said. “Made some blocks. They (the Jets) really didn’t get any good shots. Those are the things that helped us come back in this game.’’
Aside from the shaky first period, the Flyers sounded satisfied with their overall play.
“I don’t think anything was too serious,’’ Tippett said. “They just capitalized on their chances. I thought we had some good things all night. We stuck with it and grinded it out.’’
The Flyers were finishing up a grueling segment of their schedule, having played five games in seven nights. Plus they had played the previous night in Detroit. They might have contributed to the slow start.
“Obviously just trying to keep the energy up,’’ Tippett said. “Keep our feet moving. It’s going to wear down on you, especially the back-to-back and the travel. It’s not an excuse. I thought we fought until the end and we were in it.’’
Coach John Tortorella kept his comments brief.
“I don’t think we played bad in the first period,’’ the coach said. “Tip-in goals are tip-in goals. We had chances, we just didn’t capitalize.’’
Although he did have assists on two power-play goals, Flyers defenseman Tony DeAngelo was a team-worst minus-4.
>Kings up next
The Flyers have Monday off, then take on the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s their last home game until after the NHL winter break/All-Star Game.