Flyers dominated by Devils

Posted: May 07, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. - Midway through the third period, with the Devils sitting on a comfortable lead that the Flyers barely threatened, the Prudential Center staff played a video montage of Rocky's most painful beatdowns.

Unlike their favorite mythical character, Philadelphia's hockey team appears to be down for the count.

Thanks to a late second-period goal by Dainius Zubrus, the Devils now have the Flyers on the ropes after a 4-2 win in Game 4 that was one of the most lopsided, yet deceivingly close, games of the season.

The Flyers now trail by a head-scratching, 3-1 deficit in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series - the one nearly everybody picked them to win.

"They're all over us," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "There's no time out there. We've got to find a way to break that up."

On Sunday night, the Flyers unraveled in every way possible, from a lack of attack and forecheck, to defensive breakdowns, to undisciplined penalties, right on up to the coaching tactics that never seemed to work.

Now, the Flyers' postseason is unraveling after such a promising start. They don't even slightly resemble the same squad that sent Pittsburgh packing for the summer.

"I don't know what's going on," Danny Briere said. "All year, we've been a team where we make heads-up plays. Right now, we're forcing things. Instead of making a good, hard play, we're giving the trouble to the next guy. I don't know if it's panic or what. We're making things way too difficult."

The Flyers will face elimination for the first time this season in Game 5 on Tuesday night at 7:30 at the Wells Fargo Center.

The grim reality is that in a best-of-seven series, the team that gets to three wins first usually wins. In their 44-year history, the Flyers are 1-14 in a series when trailing 3-1. Their one and only win was that historic, mind-numbing comeback against Boston in the second round in 2010.

In the three major series sports - NHL, major league baseball and NBA - the team leading three-games-to-one has won the series nearly 92 percent (488-for-531) of the time.

The one, bleak positive to note is that New Jersey - with the same players in Martin Brodeur, Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias - once painfully overcame a 3-1 deficit in 2000 against the Flyers. That year, in the Eastern Conference finals, the Flyers were already dreaming of a Stanley Cup finals matchup.

This spring, the Flyers apparently had those same dreams after dispatching the odds-on Cup favorite in the first round in Pittsburgh. The only problem is that they are a full seven wins short of even making it to the Cup final.

Quickly, the Flyers' dreams could turn from Lord Stanley's gleaming Cup to rolling white balls into a cup at the local country club.

For the second time in as many games, the Flyers scored first, when Scott Hartnell redirected a Claude Giroux shot/pass for a power-play goal in the first period. For Giroux, still the NHL's leading playoff scorer, it was his first point in a span of 166 minutes, 42 seconds in the series.

Yes, scoring first is still the kiss of death for the Flyers in the playoffs - even when they jump out to a two-goal edge. The team to score the game's first goal in any Flyers playoff game this postseason is now 1-9. Giroux gave the Flyers that 2-0 lead when he converted a shorthanded break, a goal that usually would have been a backbreaker for any team.

Instead, in a span of 2:55 to end the first period, New Jersey climbed out of the two-goal hole and skated off to its locker room even on the scoreboard.

Somehow, the Flyers actually skated to that two-goal lead without ever actually earning it. Through the first half of Game 4, the Flyers had attempted just nine shots on goal compared to the Devils' 32.

To his credit, Ilya Bryzgalov came up with a few ridiculous saves in consecutive order on Steve Bernier midway through the second period to keep the game knotted.

Ironically, Zubrus' series-changing goal late in the second period came after the Flyers' best 5-minute string of pressure of the game.

Giroux left the Flyers shorthanded to start the final frame after a dirty and high hit on Zubrus. Giroux's hit will be reviewed by the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday for possible supplementary discipline. He received just a 2-minute penalty on the play and Zubrus returned to the game.

Giroux's frustration on the play was apparent, complaining about a missed call on Brodeur nullifying a scoring chance by playing a puck outside of the trapezoid.

The only complaint should have been about the Flyers' lack of heart and hustle. The Flyers made the win look easy for the birthday boy in Brodeur, who turned 40 on Sunday, by throwing just 22 shots his way.

As the minutes waned in Newark, the Flyers appeared to be waiting for one player to make one more magical play to change their fortune. Now, it sure looks like the entire Flyers franchise will be waiting at least one more year to end that 36-season Stanley Cup drought.

"It looks like they want it more than us," Giroux said. "That's frustrating because the whole season, we've been outworking every team. Now it's the other way around. It's not acceptable. Right now, the way we're playing, we're not going to win any games." 


Contact Frank Seravalli at  seravaf@phillynews.com or @DNFlyers on Twitter. Read his blog, Frequent Flyers, at www.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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