Early in the day, interim coach Scott Gordon said the Flyers had to treat Monday’s showdown against the arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins “like a playoff game.”
They did, playing with a high level of desperation, swarming the net, and badly outshooting Pittsburgh.
Despite setting a franchise record with 28 shots in a period and finishing with 51 shots, the Flyers fell to Pittsburgh at the Wells Fargo Center, 4-1, and dropped eight points behind the Penguins in the playoff race.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray made a career-high 50 saves, including eight against Ivan Provorov and seven against Jake Voracek.
"I thought we dominated most of the game,” center Nolan Patrick said. “Their goalie played well and made saves, but I think you heard the other boys say it: If we keep playing like that, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
Kris Letang iced the verdict with an empty-net goal with 12.2 seconds left.
The Penguins ended a four-game losing streak and handed the Flyers their first regulation defeat in 11 games (9-1-1).
Flyers rookie goalie Carter Hart was denied his ninth straight win, which would have set an NHL record for goaltenders under 21 years old. He has to settle for a share of the record: eight consecutive victories before reaching 21.
Jake Guentzel made it 3-0 with a wraparound goal with 5:14 to go.
But the Flyers made it interesting after a five-minute match penalty on Evgeni Malkin with 4:54 left.
Voracek’s power-play goal cut it to 3-1 with 4:31 remaining. Murray then made several key saves in the remaining minutes to end the suspense.
Murray was brilliant, but he also had some fortune on his side.
With a little over seven minutes left in the second period and the Flyers attacking the net while on a power play, Murray got his glove on Travis Konecny’s blast, but immediately lost the puck and Patrick banged home the rebound to apparently get the home team within 2-1.
But a premature whistle by referee Kyle Rehman – he apparently thought Murray had the puck in his glove – negated the goal.
The Wells Fargo Center serenaded the officials with derisive chants.
“I guess everybody makes mistakes,” Patrick said of the blown call.
Said center Sean Couturier: “It probably would have been a different game if we go into the third down one.”
By the end of the second period, the Flyers had a 37-16 shots domination, but trailed, 2-0. They finished with a season-high 51 shots, while Pittsburgh finished with 28 shots.
The Flyers had a 28-8 shots advantage in the second period, setting a franchise record for shots in any period. Their previous high was 25 shots in a period, done in games in 1976 and again in 1988.
“We created a lot of chance and couldn’t capitalize; they had a few lucky bounces go their way and the next thing you know, we’re down two goals,” Couturier said.
The Penguins took a 2-0 lead when Nick Bjugstad, acquired from Florida on Feb. 1, scored his first goal as a Penguin, ripping a left-circle shot past Hart with 12:56 left in the second period. Provorov appeared to screen Hart, and the shot may have deflected off the defenseman’s stick.
In the first period, Provorov was caught behind the net, allowing Sidney Crosby (three points) to be left all alone and score the game’s opening goal. It was Crosby’s 40th in 65 career games against the Flyers.
Provorov went behind the net and was on the same side as Travis Sanheim, who tried to backhand the puck out of harm’s way. But it deflected off the Penguins’ Bryan Rust and went to Crosby, who was behind the goal line and to the right of the net. Crosby, with Hart leaning toward the other side, tucked it into the open net with 11:41 left in the first.
“Just a bad bounce,” Provorov said. “Went off the shinguard [of Rust] and no one knew where the puck was, and the puck found him."
Hart said he couldn’t find the puck. “I lost in it the stands and I think everybody else did, too,” he said. “The only guy who knew where it was, obviously, was Crosby.”
It was the only goal of the opening period — and the first tally an opponent had scored during the five-game homestand while Couturier’s regular line was on the ice — but the Flyers had numerous quality chances.