The Philadelphia Flyers are used to putting together late game magic to win this season. Flyers fans like myself were encouraged that this kept up in the postseason, thanks to the late rallies and two overtime victories. As such, when Game 3 against the New Jersey Devils on May 3 went into overtime, the stage seemed set for a third straight win in extra time.
But although the Devils gave them more than enough opportunities, the Flyers refused to take advantage of them. Finally New Jersey stopped waiting around and took things over itself, snapping Philadelphia's overtime winning streak - and its favored status in this series - with a 4-3 victory.
Before regulation ended, this seemed like a vintage Flyers game except for how they scored the opening goal. Yet they then reverted back to struggling early, as they gave up two goals in 20 seconds at one point and had to rally from a 2-1 and 3-2 deficit. However, once Danny Briere came through again with the second tying goal, it looked like Philadelphia would follow the script and prevail late once more.
The Flyers won by 4-3 in overtime in Game 1 on April 29, so winning by the same score in extra time in Game 3 made sense. It especially made sense when the Devils drew two penalties in overtime - which would have been a killer for both teams in the first round. Yet Philadelphia's power play isn't as strong as it was against the Pittsburgh Penguins, while New Jersey's penalty kill isn't as weak as it was against the Florida Panthers either.
That made all the difference, as the two penalty kills gave the Devils room to stabilize and take control. Although the Flyers had all the shots and scoring chances early in overtime, they soon ran out of gas after a fast start. This is becoming the storyline for the series as a whole, given that the Flyers have now gone from being in total control to being down by 2-1 and in need of solutions very soon.
They certainly need to fix their line changing, as the Devils caught them off guard during a change and got the winning goal before they knew what hit them. New Jersey itself has caught Philadelphia off guard before it knew what happened, and now the usual reliance on late game magic isn't going to be enough anymore.
The Devils have their own last-minute heroics to brag about, since they won two straight overtime games just to avoid elimination from the Panthers. The Flyers weren't pushed to the brink like that to start the postseason, but before long they will be, if they aren't already. To escape that fate, it may be time to accept that they aren't the best third period/overtime team in this series anymore, and adjust accordingly - perhaps by starting a little faster once in a while.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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