NEWARK, N.J. - The Flyers, being generous sorts, gave New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur a present for his 40th birthday on Sunday night: some free time to catch up on his reading, take a nap, or do whatever he wanted while the puck was at the other end of the ice.
They went 16 minutes, 23 seconds between shots until Brayden Schenn got one off from the left side of the net with 7 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the second period.
The Flyers had talked about playing with more desperation, more emotion, more energy. That didn't happen. As a result, they are on the brink of elimination from their Eastern Conference semifinal series after their listless, 4-2 loss to New Jersey at the sold-out Prudential Center. They trail the series, three games to one.
"We're spending too much time defending. For some reason, we're stuck in our zone," veteran center Danny Briere said. "We have a lot of talent offensively, but right now we're just not using it."
To make matters worse, there is a chance the Flyers' best player, center Claude Giroux, will be suspended for a head hit delivered to Jersey's Dainius Zubrus in the closing seconds of the second period.
The Flyers, badly outplayed in even-strength situations Sunday, are 1-14 (7.1 percent) in series when they trail by 3-1.
But Giroux insisted that the series isn't over.
"There's not one guy out there that's going to quit, and the guys in this room like to come back," Giroux said. "We'll see if the 'Comeback Kids' can do it again."
The Devils dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Flyers, 32-12, and building a 3-2 lead. The Flyers were within striking distance only because goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was brilliant during a second period in which the Devils outshot the Flyers, 16-5. The puck seemed to be at the Flyers' defensive end about 75 percent of the first two periods.
The Flyers nearly left the ice in a 2-2 tie after the second, but a defensive miscue behind the goal line by veteran Kimmo Timonen allowed rookie Adam Henrique to gain possession and feed the puck to a wide-open Zubrus, and the former Flyer beat Bryzgalov from the slot with 2:13 left in the period.
"There's no excuse for not being ready to play . . . in the last couple of games." Those words were spoken by Briere before the Flyers' embarrassing first two periods on Sunday.
The Devils, who finished under .500 last year and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996, had to huff and puff to get past a mediocre Florida team in the first round, needing overtime wins in Games 6 and 7 to advance.
The Flyers needed six games to brush aside the Stanley Cup favorite Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference quarterfinals. You could argue that the six days off between rounds took the Flyers out of their rhythm. But the Flyers won Game 1 - when they were expected to show rustiness - and then played their worst hockey in the next three games.
Sometime after their dramatic overtime victory in Game 1 and their Game 2 clunker, the Flyers lost their edge, lost their mojo, lost their ability to get through the neutral zone and mount an attack. The Flyers had 36 shots in Game 1.
Since then, they have managed 20, 28, and 22, respectively. It's been a stunning transformation for a team whose identity has been its ferocious forecheck and its attacking style, a team that, excluding shootouts, did not lose three consecutive games all season
Until Sunday night.