SUNRISE, Fla. — After it was over, after a stunning ending had negated the Flyers’ hard-working, three-goal comeback, you could hear the anguish in the players’ voices.
“It’s a tough one to swallow right now,” right winger Travis Konecny said a few minutes after Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn.
The Flyers had pulled their goalie for an extra attacker and tied the score at 3-3 on Sean Couturier’s goal with 92 seconds left only to lose on defenseman Ryan Pulock’s long tracer that sailed past goalie Brian Elliott with 41 seconds remaining.
“The first period,” Couturier said, “cost us the game.”
The Flyers, their defense abandoning Elliott, fell into a 3-0 hole in the opening period. They entered Wednesday with a minus-14 goal differential in the first period this season, tied with New Jersey and Ottawa for the worst in the NHL. (Conversely, the Flyers’ plus-21 goal differential in the third period is tops in the league.)
Still, they soundly outplayed the Isles over most of the second and third periods and appeared on their way to picking up a much-needed point, or two, before a dominating Islanders shift at the end.
“I didn’t pick it up in time,” Elliott said of Pulock’s game-winner. “It’s frustrating. The guys battled back to at least secure an extra point. For it to end like that ...”
“We have to quickly forget this one and move on,” Couturier said. “There’s still a lot of hockey left.”
Twenty five games to be exact. The next two games, tough road matchups against Florida and surging Tampa Bay, will show the Flyers’ mettle as they try to rebound from a devastating defeat.
Goalie Carter Hart, who has been dominating at home (14-2-2 record) and awful on the road (2-9-1) figures to start at least one of the next two road games.
On Thursday, the Flyers will be facing a Florida team that lost, 4-1, Monday at the Wells Fargo Center. Hart, in his return after missing nine games because of an abdominal strain, made 30 saves in that win and outplayed Sergei Bobrovsky.
After that game, Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar sort of guaranteed the Panthers would win the rematch.
“We can say we didn’t bear down on our chances,” Weegar, 26, said about Monday’s loss, “but it’s good to see them in a few days, and we’ll take back our two points.”
The Flyers hold the second wild-card spot in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff race. They could have moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division if they had recorded a regulation win over the Islanders.
Instead, they suffered one of their most painful losses of the season.
“We just have to forget about the outcome of this game,” Konecny said.
But can they? Will they?