We could smell game seven. It was right there. With a three goal lead halfway through the game, it was the Flyers contest to lose.
And boy, they certainly did a good job of doing that.
The Penguins stepped it up and outworked the Flyers in every aspect of the game from the middle of the second period on. In front of the net, they won three battles that led to three goals that tied the game.
Were they cheap goals? You've got that right. Evgeni Malkin poked one through the crease to get Pittsburgh on the board. Then, Mark Eaton knocked a loose puck out of the air for the second goal, and Sidney Crosby did the same thing to tie the score. But that's how you win playoff games, and the Flyers were outworked.
They continued to conduct the momentum train into the third period, and Sergei Gonchar's blast from the point gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead that the Flyers wouldn't be able to overcome. An empty net goal by -- who else? -- Crosby would finish out the scoring.
In the third, though, Philadelphia didn't go down without a fight. They held the offensive zone for most of the 20 minutes and got several quality scoring chances on Marc-Andre Fleury. Claude Giroux hit a post, there was a mad flurry in front of the goal with the Pittsburgh goaltender was down and out of the net, but no matter what they did, Philly couldn't put the rubber in the back of the goal.
The third period flurry from the Flyers wouldn't have mattered if they didn't blow the initial lead, though. That was the difference today, obviously. You had to expect that the Penguins would fight back, and when they did, the Flyers just weren't ready for it. That is unacceptable.
But it's the way the whole season has gone for the orange and black. They haven't been able to play a consistent, sustained 60 minutes seemingly all season, and in the end it's rather fitting that the season ends because of that. Danny Briere said after the game that the Flyers lost their focus after Pittsburgh picked up their momentum shifting first goal. That is unacceptable.
It's a frustrating loss, but in hockey more than any other sport, you need losses to make you a stronger team. You need to lose as a team before you win as a team, and the Philadelphia Flyers are still a very young hockey club -- much younger than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They will continue to get better and that can be a consolation in the coming weeks. Right now, though, this hurts.