The Philadelphia Flyers were more impressive than they had been in weeks in throttling the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 17. Flyers fans like myself couldn't get carried away, of course, given how the Wild have almost tumbled out of the Western Conference playoff picture since mid-December. But it was a rare game where Philadelphia's offense and defense worked equally well - and it looked likely to continue against the New York Islanders on Jan. 19.
The Flyers have owned the Islanders for years, especially in Philadelphia - plus Sergei Bobrovsky was starting against them seven days after dominating them in New York. It seemed like a nice, orderly win was in order, until the puck dropped and the Flyers were humiliated with a 4-1 defeat.
The only excuse that Philadelphia had for this was that it ran into a hot goalie, just as New York did the first time it faced Bobrovsky. This time Evgeni Nabokov was the big goaltending hero, as he stopped 40 Flyers shots and 32 in the last two periods alone. But even with Nabokov standing on his head, it shouldn't have been enough for the Islanders to win in Philadelphia for the first time in almost five years - and not this decisively.
Ilya Bryzgalov can't even be used as a scapegoat since he didn't even start in this loss. And when Bobrovsky has games like this, it only makes us Philadelphia fans question if any of our goalies can carry us to a Stanley Cup, regardless of who starts. Perhaps since the Islanders were stonewalled by Bobrovsky a week ago, they were due for revenge. But New York had lost 26 of its last 28 games to Philadelphia, so being overdue doesn't usually make a difference in this rivalry.
It did this time as the Islanders got an early goal that was overturned, only to get two that counted in the second period. They even jumped to a 3-0 lead in the third before the Flyers finally avoided a shutout on a Matt Read tally. Yet it was too late to do much of anything else, as New York sealed its rare win on an empty net goal with a second left.
Following up a 5-1 win with a 4-1 loss may not be exceedingly out of the ordinary, although it is when that 4-1 defeat is to a team like the Islanders. It would have been embarrassing for the Flyers against any other team as well, but it wasn't and that is what makes it more worrying. Considering that Philadelphia's next two opponents are the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins on Jan. 21 and 22, this could get worse in the blink of an eye if the Flyers can't bounce back.
The Flyers could usually count on the likes of the Islanders to give them a boost up before facing tougher competition. However, the direct opposite happened in this case as the Flyers laid down worse than they did in that 6-0 loss to the Bruins on Dec. 17 that triggered their recent struggles. They got throttled by the defending champions and the hottest team in the NHL on that day, yet getting throttled by the Islanders carries far, far fewer excuses.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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