PHILADELPHIA -- The buzzer sounded and the boos rained down.
Claude Giroux skated toward the Flyers' net and shattered his stick over the crossbar in sheer frustration. Another game, another blown third period.
If the Flyers are not a part of the Stanley Cup playoffs when they begin 169 days from now on April 16, they can look back to collapses like Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to Anaheim and smash their sticks on themselves.
"We had the game," Wayne Simmonds said. "We were up 2-0 and we just stopped playing."
For the second time this season, the Flyers blew a third-period lead and lost in regulation. For the sixth time in eight losses, it was an entirely winnable game -- with the only exceptions being a 5-2 defeat in Detroit and a 4-1 fall in Montreal.
With that, the Flyers squandered a prime opportunity to get back in the Eastern Conference race -- and in doing so, make a name for themselves by knocking off a top team from the West. Not including Tuesday night's late games, the Western Conference is 54-20-8 against the East this season.
"Good teams know how to win games in the third period," Matt Read said. "The teams who struggle are the ones who lose games in the third period. I think we've got to learn how to win those games. Once you learn how to win games in the third period, I think we'll be a good team and make the playoffs."
If Tuesday night is any indication, the Flyers are still a long ways off. Anaheim is now 7-0-0 in one-goal games; the Flyers are 2-4-0. The Ducks (nee: Mighty) are 6-0-0 when leading after two periods; the Flyers are now 2-2-0. There is a clear difference between the Flyers and teams like Anaheim -- the class of the West -- even though the Ducks were without the likes of Saku Koivu, Dustin Penner, Luca Sbisa, Jakob Silfverberg and even Teemu Selanne, who left the game early.
The Flyers have now been outscored 14-5 in third periods this season. They haven't even been able to hang on in those two losses for the NHL's gifted point for playing in overtime.
"I thought maybe we were beyond (troubled third periods) now," coach Craig Berube said. "But we weren't (Tuesday night). It wasn't a good period. It's something that we'll definitely have to work on. You can't be that sloppy with the puck and expect to win."
It is puzzling to see the Flyers struggle in third periods, especially after cradling a 3-2 edge on Saturday on Long Island and turning it into a 5-2 triumph.
Part of it, the Flyers say, is mental. After Anaheim's first goal -- a "fluke bounce" that ended up on Andrew Cogliano's stick -- Giroux said a mental switch was flipped for the Flyers, like a post-traumatic stress victim having flashbacks.
"We got a fluke bounce, but it's part of the game," Giroux said. "After that, we need to stay focused and we would have been fine."
They were anything but fine. The other half of it was physical. After wearing down the Ducks, -- who are halfway through a season-high 16-day road trip -- in the first period, several Flyers said they stopped skating.
"The first period was probably one of our best periods of the year," Read said after scoring in his third straight game. "Then we shut down, not playing our systems, not moving our feet. It's something we've got to learn from and take advantage of teams when we have the lead."
Berube commented at Tuesday's morning skate how the Flyers "felt fortunate" because no team has really taken off in the East, leaving them still very much in the hunt even after a brutal 3-7-0 start. The Flyers entered Tuesday night's game five points back of a playoff spot with two games in hand and 72 to play.
Berube followed that up by saying, "You still have to win your games." They've especially needed to win the games in which they lead in the third period, or at least find a way to salvage a point.
"It's disappointing all around," goalie Steve Mason said. "We didn't have the effort we needed to close out the game."
Forward Zac Rinaldo wore a visor for the first time in his NHL career after taking a puck in the face on Saturday against the Islanders ... Former Flyers draft pick Patrick Maroon (sixth round, 2007) skated on Anaheim's first line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf ... Calgary's top player, defenseman Mark Giordano, will miss the next six to eight weeks with a broken ankle. The Flyers and Flames had already talked trade earlier this month, prior to the firing of Peter Laviolette, about possibly sending a defenseman to Alberta. Stay tuned.
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