There has been one glaring problem with the Philadelphia Flyers all season long: inconsistency. Everybody has been guilty of it: the goalies, the offense, the defense, the power play, the penalty kill, the coaches -- everybody. And if you want to win in the playoffs, above all else, you need to play consistent hockey.
Tonight in Toronto, the Flyers showed that they are still unable to do so. For two periods, they were absolutely terrible. They came out with no fire, no determination, and no heart. They played like you would've expected the Maple Leafs to play, like a team going through the motions in the stretch run of a lost season. The Leafs, on the other hand, played like a team with something to actually play for, something to look ahead to, and something to prove.
Philadelphia decided to get things going a bit in the third period, but while they were dicking around during the first forty minutes of the game, their goalie was pulled and they were being outworked by a team that is much, much worse than they are. It wasn't really Biron's fault, either. The goals he gave up were certainly weak, don't get me wrong, but there is no way to pin this loss on one guy. Every single player on the ice was at fault tonight. Throw the coaching staff in that fire too.
This team was simply not ready to play tonight, and that blame falls on everybody. There's never an excuse for that, although in a situation like Sunday against Boston, where you're not rested and you've just played 15 games in 29 days, some leeway can be given (not that the Flyers weren't prepared on Sunday, I'm just making a point). But tonight, when you're well rested and you're playing in arguably the hockey capital of the world, not being prepared is completely, 120 percent unacceptable.
We can sit here and break this loss down -- why it happened from a hockey standpoint: the power play didn't click, the goalie gave up terrible goals, etc -- but it's really part of a bigger problem. The Flyers are a better team than they played tonight. The real Flyers are the ones that are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the team that beat New Jersey last week and the team that played in the final five or ten minutes tonight.
But for some reason, the Flyers feel like they can get away with playing just those ten minutes. Or twenty, or anything that's not a full 60. Games like Saturday night on Long Island, where the Flyers battled back from a three-goal deficit to take the lead and eventually win in a shootout, or games like a 6-5 win over Carolina on December 11, where the Flyers scored four in the third to tie it before winning in a shootout, don't help.
Sure, they're plenty fun while they are happening. The roller coaster is always fun when you don't throw up afterwards. But in the long run, those sorts of games are damaging to a team. It puts the thought out there that they can just flip a switch and turn on the jets and still win, and it doesn't matter how late that switch is flipped.
Of course it's nice to have a team as talented as this one, so that when you're in the game, you can be down two goals with five minutes to play and still feel like they have a legitimate chance to win the hockey game. And tonight, they probably should've at least tied the game in the final period. Claude Giroux was alone in front of goalie Curtis Joseph and he flipped it over the net while on a shorthanded three-on-one. Jeff Carter was robbed by Joseph in the waning seconds. But it shouldn't take a mad dash at the finish to win. The inconsistency has got to stop.
Is this all a little harsh? I don't think so, and when you look at the scores from the Eastern Conference tonight, it's hard to argue against that. Pittsburgh absolutely manhandled the Devils tonight by a score of 6-1 [Pensburgh, In Lou We Trust], which means that a Flyers win would've put them just four points behind New Jersey with a game in hand. A Philadelphia win would've also made Pittsburgh's win moot from our standpoint. But instead, the Penguins are now tied with the orange and black in points, and they still sit six points back of the Atlantic lead.
Better win that game in hand, boys.