Flyers address collapses

DAVID UNKLE -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Start with the Philadelphia Flyers' season opener where a 3-1 Flyers lead disintegrated into a 5-3 New York Rangers victory.

Jump ahead to Nov. 18 when the Flyers came back from a 3-1 deficit to go up 5-3, only to lose 6-5 in overtime to the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Flyers continued their generosity into the Holiday season in a Dec. 23 tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers had a three-goal lead early in the game but needed a pair of goals late in the game to steal a 5-4 win.

It happened in January against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Washington Capitals afforded the Flyers a similar opportunity in February.

"We've got to put (our) foot on the throat (of our opponents) and we let it off," said Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock after the Flyers coughed up a 3-0 lead before toppling the Penguins 4-3. "We've been guilty of that all year at home."

"If you look at the shot against us during the third period on the road, we are allowing the other team 3 shots, 4 shots," said Hitchcock. "We come into our building and we are allowing 14 (shots) in the third period."

In recent home wins against Montreal, Atlanta, Ottawa, and Pittsburgh (twice), the Flyers have allowed opponents to ring-up double-digit shot totals in the third period.

With a home record of just 21-13-6, those high-shot totals in the final 20 minutes are translating into wins. Outscoring their opponents by 11 and 14 goal margins in the first 40 minutes of the game, the Flyers come up on the losing end, outscored 90-74 in the third period.

"The games where you can tell the most is when we're up 3-0," said Peter Forsberg, who has spoken out this year about the team's sloppy play.

"Every single game when we're up 3-0, it has (ended up) being a close game. "(In the playoffs), I hope we can bring our game to a different level, step it up a notch and play a lot better for 60 minutes,"

"This last game (against Pittsburgh) we were up 3-0, and we stopped playing again," said Forsberg.

"That's been our case in a lot of games."

With Stanley Cup and Olympic hardware to his name, Forsberg feels that gaining the ability to put teams away (and keep them there), "comes with a little bit of experience."

"You learn to play with (a killer instinct), you learn what to do and not slow down."

"It's hard to practice (that mindset), but when you start playing in the playoffs or in important games...I think we learned from this year that we can't stop playing offensive hockey," said Forsberg.

"When it comes down to the playoff we should have learned our lesson."

PLAYOFF PICTURE

"We secured a playoff spot two weeks before the (regular) season ended and now we're kind of stuck between the third and the fifth spot," said Peter Forsberg, fielding questions at the Flyers practice facility on Wednesday.

"Wherever we end up it's going to be a tough opponent."

In the span of four days the Flyers meet the New Jersey Devils twice with the New York Rangers sandwiched in between.

In early March, the Devils stumbled out of the post-Olympic break with a 5-7 record causing some pundits to question whether the Devils might miss the playoffs.

Over the last ten games, the 9-1 Devils are the top team in the NHL, thanks to solid goaltending by Martin Brodeur and offence provided by Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.

Enjoying a breakout season, Gionta went from netting 21 goals in 2003-04 to denting the twine 45 times this season. A go-to-guy in critical situations, Gionta has 18 game-winning goals over the last two seasons and his 23 powerplay goals are third in the NHL behind Ilya Kovalchuk (26) and Jaromir Jagr (24).

The Devils could quickly end the Flyers hopes and in the process, extend their Stanley Cup drought to 31 years.

The Rangers are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games but have given the Flyers fits this season. In seven games, the Flyers have three wins (two coming in overtime) and lost four times.

The speedy Buffalo Sabres will host the Flyers if they stay the fifth seed.

While the Flyers would have home ice advantage only as the fifth seed, based on their performance this year, that may actually benefit the team, but Hitchcock disagrees.

"Home ice is very important," said Hitchcock. "It is really difficult when you constantly have to win road games in playoff series. If it is game seven and it's in your building, to me there is no better feeling."

"We feel the sense of urgency, our team wants to do well, (but) there is no fluidness at home like there is on the road," said Hitchcock. "We start making it complicated for ourselves, and then we start to do too much and end up turning the puck over."

"The next thing you know, it's in our net."

"Nobody is happy seeing the breakdowns," said goaltender Robert Esche who appears to have wrestled the starting job back from rookie Antero Niittymaki.

"You have to have a short memory span in the NHL."


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