Nobody expected the Flyers to run the table in the grueling postseason, but it’s doubtful anyone could have imagined that the Montreal Canadiens — competing in the playoffs only because of the pandemic-altered format — would make them look like the 1974-75 Washington Capitals in Friday’s first period.
For those not familiar with NHL history, the Caps went 8-67-5 that season.
But, hey, in the grand scheme of things, the Flyers’ embarrassing 5-0 loss to Team Reprieve was just one game that evened their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal at one win apiece.
Whether it was a never-in-doubt defeat or a painful 3-2 overtime loss doesn’t really matter.
What matters, from the Flyers’ perspective, is how they rebound Sunday night from their first loss in five postseason games.
What matters is whether their five prime scorers, goal-less in five postseason games, start to turn on the red light.
What matters is how they find a way to counteract Montreal’s quickness, which won’t be easy because the Flyers already had their speedier options (Shayne Gostisbehere over Robert Hagg, Joel Farabee over the injured Michael Raffl) in the lineup.
“Obviously we didn’t have the effort that we wanted " center Kevin Hayes said after the stunningly lopsided loss. “We’ll go back and watch the game. Watch what we did poorly and learn from it. "
They will need strong stomachs to watch the first period.
What’s worrisome is that the eighth-seeded Canadiens, who went 31-31-9 in the regular season and had the worst record of the 24 teams at the start of the expanded tournament, are playing freely because they know they are playing with house money.
Heck, before Game 2, many betting sites had the top-seeded Flyers as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
The Habs are relishing the underdog role (ask Pittsburgh) and have extra motivation because head coach Claude Julien had to be rushed to the hospital shortly after Game 1 and eventually had a heart procedure.
On paper, the Flyers (41-21-7 in the regular season) are clearly the better team, but that matters little in the playoffs. Again, ask Pittsburgh, which had 15 more points than the Habs in the regular season and then lost to Montreal in the play-in series.
“It wasn’t because of luck,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said.
It was because the Canadiens were much hungrier than the Penguins. The same could be said about Game 2 against the Flyers. It was odd seeing a Vigneault-coached team not look hungrier than its opponent. That hasn’t happened too much this season.
Truth be told, the Canadiens would have a 2-0 series lead if it wasn’t for goaltender Carter Hart, who stole Game 1.
That game should have been a wake-up call for the Flyers. They were thoroughly dominated in the second period but, to their credit, bounced back in the third period and won for the 13th time in their last 14 games.
It gave them a false sense of security based on how they played the first period in Game 2. By the time the Flyers got their first shot, there were less than four minutes left in the opening period and they trailed, 2-0.
Silver lining: Four times during the regular season the Flyers lost by four or more goals. On each occasion, they bounced back and won their next game.
And this: The Flyers haven’t suffered consecutive losses since Jan. 4 and 7.
“We have the right coaching staff. We’ve got the right leaders on this team who know we need to respond in a certain way,” Hayes said. “I have all the faith in the world in our leaders and in all of our teammates that we’re going to respond in the right way in Game 3.”
If they do, the Game 2 debacle will quickly be forgotten. They will be back on track to win their first playoff series since 2012, back on track to make their mark in this strange summer.