SUNRISE, Fla. - Standing in the hallway just outside the Flyers’ locker room, coach Craig Berube was shaking his head in disgust.
Hours earlier, at his team’s morning skate, he warned the confident Flyers to not overlook Florida. Berube knew relaxing in Florida’s warm breezes can direct a game one of two ways for the Flyers.
The two outcomes, like the winter-time temperatures in Fort Lauderdale and Philadelphia, are polar opposites.
Sometimes, the difference in latitude provides a change in attitude, and the no-pressure environment in South Florida is a healthy respite from a long and grueling season. In that case, the Flyers usually hammer the oft-struggling Panthers, like a 7-1 pounding in their last visit to BB&T Center on Jan. 26.
Or, a trip to the beach presents an opportunity to get sidetracked in the sand and surf, acting as a diversion to unhinge all of the good work the Flyers had done.
Last night, that was the case for the Flyers, as they kicked off a stretch of 16 of 21 games away from Philadelphia in disappointing style.
After sleepwalking through the first two periods, the Flyers fell to the Panthers, 3-1, when their third-period rally fell short in front of 14,299.
"Who are we to overlook anybody?" Berube asked. "We talked about it before the game, this morning, about being ready. I’m not sure we were."
The result was the Flyers’ first regulation loss in eight games, breaking a 6-0-1 run that began on Nov. 9 against Edmonton. It was also their first regulation loss on the road since Oct. 12 in Detroit, a span of 44 days.
The Flyers had won five straight in Sunrise, too. All signs pointed to a win against a team that had lost nine straight at one point this season.
"We got distracted. We thought we were the better team," Scott Hartnell said. "When you underestimate your opponent in this league, you’re going to get screwed."
Defenseman Mark Streit said the Flyers tried to get “too complicated” in the neutral zone. Whatever it was, Hartnell knew the Flyers got away from what earned them a point in seven straight games. It was an untimely, if not somewhat predictable, lapse in focus: the dismal Florida road swing that sucks in most of the NHL’s other 28 teams.
"The first two periods was how we played the first 15 games: awful," Hartnell said. "Our defense was taking their time getting to the puck. Our forwards were slow getting back for the defense through the neutral zone. We were turning the puck over. We tried to make behind-the-back passes, all of the stuff that we weren’t doing the last half-dozen games.
"That third period, we played our game that made us undefeated the last six or seven games. We took it to them."
The Flyers turned it on for the third period, throwing 20 darts at savvy veteran Tim Thomas, but it took 7 minutes for Wayne Simmonds to crack him. Even with a power-play goal in their seventh consecutive game, it was too late. Their 20 shots in the third was their highest total of any period this season, eclipsing the 19 they posted in the second period against Buffalo last Thursday.
"Chief warned us before not to take them lightly," Steve Mason said. "And when you have a team like that over there that has a lot of young players, they can come back to bite you."
Perhaps, that is what enraged Berube more than anything - that even after the Flyers’ abysmal first two periods, at least salvaging a point was entirely possible. It’s not as if the Panthers were playing like world beaters, clinging to just their fourth two-goal lead in 25 games this season.
"You should want to come in here and take it to this team," Berube said. "We’re a ‘north’ team - and we played that way in the third period. We weren’t ‘north’ enough. We were just slow. That’s why we lost."
The Panthers dedicated the press box at BB&T Center yesterday in memory of former Flyers and Florida coach Roger Neilson. The Hockey Hall of Famer, who passed away in 2003 at age 69, was the Panthers’ inaugural coach. He was 96-57-33 in parts of three seasons with the Flyers (1997-2000) … Erik Gudbranson’s third-period insurance goal for Florida was his first in 101 games … The Flyers’ 2-1 win in Pittsburgh on Nov. 13 was the NHL’s most-watched November game since 2001 … Vinny Lecavalier will return to Tampa Bay for the first time today since his $32 million buyout by the Lightning last summer.
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