It was as big of a game as the Flyers have played all season.
Five points behind the idle Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers needed help from the Islanders, who took on the Montreal Canadiens. They got it via a 2-1 victory, but that score didn’t go final until after the final horn had sounded at Wells Fargo Center.
More importantly, they needed to help themselves. Simply put: they didn’t. One could argue that coach Scott Gordon’s decision to start Carter Hart was one part necessary and one part strategic. With Hart healthy enough to play and the impending back-to-back games at home against the Capitals and on the road versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, Gordon had to get his Wunderkind netminder a start; starting Brian Elliott in back-to-back games simply wasn’t an option. The strategic aspect came down to another Brian Elliott issue, namely his woeful performance against the Caps just eight days before: four goals allowed on 19 shots good for a .789 SV% in just north of 24 minutes of action. It was the first game Elliott’s save percentage dipped south of .900 since he returned to the lineup on February 19th. Those four goals were also the tied for the most he’d allowed over that nine-game stretch, along with a 36 save overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Carter Hart had to better. He couldn’t possibly have a worse game, right? Well…
The first period was a Jekyll and Hyde performance in two of the three zones. For roughly six minutes to start the game, the Flyers seemingly dominated play in the offensive and neutral zones. The were flying all over like bats out of hell. Sean Couturier created a shot from the slot then laid a huge hit at center ice, followed by another by Ryan Hartman:
— Brandon Murphy (@2Murphy8) March 14, 2019
With much-needed energy propelling them forward, it seemed somewhat inevitable that they’d score first. That didn’t happen. With just 2:53 off the clock in the first period, Brett Connolly got his sensational night off to a good start:
Too easy for Connolly. pic.twitter.com/GycqkWA5EK
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 14, 2019
Six and a half minutes later, he earned a primary assist on Lars Eller’s second of the game for Washington:
Down by two goals just ten minutes in. pic.twitter.com/FaWXZoKpjC
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 14, 2019
Woof. The puck appeared to glance off Ivan Provorov’s stick and find its way directly onto Eller’s stick. The Flyers finished the period being outshot 11-5 and failed to take advantage of a late Brooks Orpik penalty for interference.
Scott Gordon’s team came out with a minute left on the Orpik minor and lit the lamp as the PP expired. Shayne Gostisbehere had an interesting sequence: ripped a shot off teammate Travis Sanheim’s foot, whipped a pirouette that would make Kristi Yamaguchi blush, and set up JVR for the Flyers’ first:
Gostisbehere provides the defence, then JVR lights the lamp 🚨. pic.twitter.com/6YvvWOa2dZ
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 15, 2019
The Flyers were riding high until an inexplicable holding call on Radko Gudas left them shorthanded. Luckily, the team was able to kill off the Caps’ first power play. Things felt like they were trending in the right direction. At least they were until Brett Connolly went into the Flyers’ defensive zone untouched and had his way with a listless Hart:
Connolly's second of the night. pic.twitter.com/evwXZcjjD7
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 15, 2019
I felt like the first two goals were solely on the Flyers’ skaters, but this third goal – with Phil Myers and Shayne Gostisbehere glued to Carl Hagelin – should’ve been stopped by Carter. He had a clear line of sight to Connolly and while one could argue it’s a tough spot to be in as a goalie, I’d argue it’s a save Hart has to make. Any semblance of Orange & Black momentum was stomped on just over a minute later as Tom Wilson – who had been previously laid out by Couturier – netted Washington’s fourth of the night:
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 15, 2019
This one was also on Hart. He overcommitted to his glove side and was helpless to stop an unmarked Wilson in the slot. I’ll credit Travis Konecny for his effort to close down, but it was too little too late. With 7:38 left in the period, Ryan Hartman set up Scott Laughton for his twelfth goal of the year (adding onto a career high for goals in a single season) to cut the lead to two. Unfortunately the Flyers couldn’t carry momentum forward and ended up shorthanded with a minute remaining in the period as Michael Raffl went to the box for holding.
After killing off the Raffl penalty to start the third, the Flyers held the Caps to just two shots on net through the first five and half minutes of the period. Then it happened. Raffl did it again. While trying to get himself into better position just inside the Caps’ blue line, he appeared to ever-so-slightly hook his man, leaving the Flyers shorthanded once again. After a Washington minor penalty gave the Flyers roughly thirty seconds of unsuccessful PP time, Nicklas Backstrom went to the box with 10:54 remaining in the game. The Flyers barraged Braden Holtby with a flurry of shots akin to an Afro Thunder “Ready 2 Rumble” power-up. Chance after chance proved futile and a slap-shot from Claude Giroux’s favorite left circle capped off another missed opportunity. After failing to capitalize on a Nick Jensen minor, the Flyers’ effort amounted to the kind of stretch we saw in the first two months of the season, one devoid of hope and confidence. The damage the absence of Jake Voracek left couldn’t be overstated. Aside from Scott Laughton, the role players who had so admirably stepped up in Monday’s win over Ottawa provided not even a modicum of inspiration. An Evgeny Kuznetsov empty netter pulled the proverbial plug on the Flyers’ postseason hopes.
As much as it pains me to write, perhaps Anthony was right all along. It appears it’s time to look ahead to the off-season.
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