SWEEPING OUT wide, nearly brushing the boards to the left of the New Jersey bench and just a tad above the top of the left faceoff circle, Max Talbot used nearly every inch of ice in an attempt to hook Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg on a third-period penalty shot.
Hedberg took the bait.
Talbot, gently cradling the puck on his stick, then bolted in a straight line across Hedberg's crease and easily lifted the puck behind him. Hedberg, giving aging legend Marty Brodeur a night off, slammed his stick in frustration as he mentally solved Talbot's breakaway riddle but could not physically catch up to stop the puck.
He slammed his stick in frustration, with a large spotlight beaming from the Wells Fargo Center rafters to highlight his embarrassment.
"I don't have many moves in my toolbox, so I went with what I can do," Talbot said.
Talbot celebrated on his way back to the bench, with the Flyers' goal horn blaring in the background. His penalty-shot goal should have been the break the Flyers needed to deliver them from a Devil of a second period, in which New Jersey fired an incredible 21 shots.
Except it wasn't.
Talbot's tiebreaking goal was for naught, as David Clarkson slipped a dribbler through Sergei Bobrovsky's pads off a Matt Carle turnover with 6:35 remaining, ultimately leading the Devils to a 4-3, come-from-behind win in the shootout.
"It's hard to know that you had a lead after 54 minutes or so to go and make a play like that," said Carle, accepting blame for the ill-advised pass up the middle that was intercepted by Patrik Elias, who fed Clarkson in front for the tying goal. "It's something that I've got to be a little bit more smart about, maybe carry the puck a little bit more or move it off the glass.
"But I don't think we had our best game. 'Bob' stole us a point."
All things considered, the Flyers did not leave the game empty-handed, having collected a point less than 24 hours after a hard-fought road win in Buffalo - except this time, they did it in the complete opposite fashion. On Wednesday, the Flyers did not cough up the lead under any circumstance. Last night, they blew leads of 2-0, 2-1 and 3-2.
"We felt that we should have won that game," Talbot said. "We had the lead and we lost it.''
Part of that is the travel and tired legs that the Flyers endured, a common thread during an 82-game season with 13 sets of back-to-back games. They are now 0-1-1 on the second leg of back-to-backs this season.
But the only common thread between last night and Wednesday in Buffalo were brutal second periods. In fact, the Flyers have been consistently outplayed, outshot and outscored in the second period of games this season. They have scored just eight goals in the middle frame of 13 contests and have allowed 13 goals.
"The second period, again, I'm not real happy with," coach Peter Laviolette said. "We were slow to the puck and slow to support the puck. And I think turnovers played into it. They had their foot on the gas and we were watching a little bit too much."
New Jersey outshot the Flyers, 21-9, in the second period, the Devils' third-highest shot total in a single period during the teams' storied rivalry.
Besides, what Flyers-Devils contest would be complete without heartache and a helping of controversy on the side? Danny Briere's shootout attempt was reviewed by the NHL's war room in Toronto after it appeared that he stopped on his way into Hedberg.
In the shootout, a puck must maintain continuous forward progress.
"Video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Daniel Briere kept the puck in motion," the league said in a statement confirming the goal, "and that the puck never came to a complete stop."
Bobrovsky, who stopped 36 of 39 shots, allowed Elias' game-winning, dribbling breakaway attempt. Bobrovsky had continually bailed out his teammates throughout the second and third periods to give them a chance to win.
"All of the goals were probably stoppable," Bobrovsky said through a translator.
Carle said it was evened out by the fact that there were a few pucks that Bobrovsky saved that he probably should not have, a stark reminder to how fickle the NHL can be on a shot-by-shot basis.
"There are going to be nights somewhere during the year where it's just not happening," Briere said. "It was one of those nights. 'Bob' held the fort for the most part and had to bail us out on more than one occasion. We owe him a lot for the point we got."
Zac Rinaldo scored his first career NHL goal to open the scoring in the second period. He played just 2 minutes and 24 seconds and did not register a single hit for the first time all season . . . With Max Talbot's penalty shot goal, the Flyers are 18-for-42 all-time in regular-season penalty shots . . . The Flyers were charged with 18 giveaways . . . New Jersey attempted 77 shots on net, including 39 shots on goal, 28 that were blocked and 10 that missed the net. The Flyers were a full 26 attempts behind the Devils with 51.