NEWARK, NJ - MAY 03: Scott Hartnell #19 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on against the New Jersey Devils in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center on May 3, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
You want to know why the Philadelphia Flyers have been outhustled, outworked and generally outplayed in the last two losses to the New Jersey Devils? This quote from Scott Hartnell, who might just be the team's emotional bellwether, sums it all up rather succintly.
"I don't think we thought we were going to win four straight," Hartnell said today, "but definitely, they've played a lot stronger and a lot harder than me personally would have thought they'd come with. They've been on a high the last few weeks obviously, beating Florida in Game 7.
"To have to step off that plane and take the bus to come [to Philly] and play, they're riding that high. They've been playing really strong, playing really hard, and for us, maybe that week off was affecting our play so far."
Mmmmmhm. That sounds about right. The Flyers have done some good things in the last two games -- early in Game 2, in inconsistent bunches during Game 3 -- but frankly, they're just getting flat out beaten by the Devils in every regard.
They're weak on the puck, they can't break New Jersey's defensive coverage with anything resembling a tough forecheck for long periods of time, and they look flat-footed in their own defensive end when the Devils establish zone time of their own. The power play failures in the overtime period yesterday are an extension of that.
They can beat the Devils. They are a better team than the Devils, and I don't even think that's debatable. But in the playoffs, the gap between the No. 1 seed and the No. 8 seed isn't all that wide, and the gap between the No. 5 seed and the No. 6 seed is even smaller. When you're entering a game expecting a team to play weaker than they are, you're setting yourself up to lose.
It's a simple way to understand why Hartnell's line has failed to show up in the last two games, just as it's a simple way to understand why the team faces a 2-1 series deficit. As Ben wrote in his game recap last night, these Flyers have played their best with their backs against the wall. Game 4 on Sunday is a must-win, and let's hope that trend continues.