Promise followed by drop-off, Flyers' 2023-24 season ends on final day

Promise followed by drop-off, Flyers’ 2023-24 season ends on final day originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Needing three scenarios to fall in their favor, the Flyers didn’t get the bounces.

They lost to the Capitals, 2-1, in their 2023-24 regular-season finale Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Erik Johnson drew the Flyers even at 1-1 with a redirection in the second period.

T.J. Oshie won it for Washington on an empty-netter with three minutes left. The Flyers had to pull the goalie because they could not allow the Capitals to earn a point after regulation if they wanted to have a chance at finishing with the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.

Not long before the final decision in Philadelphia, the Red Wings eliminated the Flyers by forcing overtime in Montreal and picking up a point.

The Flyers gave themselves a chance to play a meaningful Game 82. But an ill-timed, head-scratching eight-game skid and a brutal Monday night of scoreboard watching had their playoff hopes just barely flickering entering Tuesday.

To make the dance, John Tortorella’s club had to win in regulation and needed regulation losses from the Red Wings tonight and the Penguins on Wednesday. It turns out, Wednesday won’t matter.

With 3.3 seconds left in regulation, Detroit scored to tie its game against the Canadiens, ending the Flyers’ hopes.

The Flyers finished the regular season 38-33-11. The 87 points marked a 12-point jump from last season, when the Flyers went 31-38-13 in Year 1 under Tortorella.

To the surprise of just about everyone, the Flyers defied the rebuild label for a significant portion of this season. They held down third place in the Metropolitan Division for over two months before stumbling into their season-worst eight-game losing streak.

They stopped the spiral last week with a win over the NHL-leading Rangers and then edged the Devils to keep things interesting come the finale. But it was the first time the they had won consecutive games in almost two months.

The Flyers lost 19 of their last 28 games (9-14-5) and nine of their last 11 (2-7-2).

“I’m proud of the team,” Tortorella said Tuesday morning. “That was my message prior to the Rangers game, was let’s just be proud of ourselves and get this to Tuesday and see where we go. I’m proud of the team, how they’ve handled themselves. Even through some of the bumps we’ve had at the end of the year, they’ve stayed together, they’ve tried to figure it out and now they get to play a Game 82 that means something.”

The Flyers have missed the playoffs in four consecutive years, their longest drought since 1989-90 to 1993-94, when they went five straight seasons without a postseason berth.

An impassioned Tortorella tried desperately to stop the bleeding down the stretch and will the Flyers into the playoffs. But at morning skate Tuesday, he was not losing sight of the big picture with this season.

“No matter what happens tonight, I’m excited about how they’ve handled themselves,” he said. “I’m excited about some of the growth, I’m excited about hopefully getting an opportunity, but if not, where we go in the future.”

The Flyers went 1-2-0 against the Capitals (40-31-11) in their three-game regular-season series. Washington clinched the East’s final playoff berth with the victory.

• Some will see the glass half full with the Flyers and some will see it half empty. Both sides are justified.

The Flyers had a future-oriented offseason after publicly embracing a rebuild in May. The rebuild certainly looked expedited at times. The Flyers being in a playoff race all season is a nice feather in the new regime’s cap.

But with the way the season ended, the Flyers clearly still have plenty of questions and work to do.

Moving Sean Walker before the March 8 trade deadline to supplement their future did not help their chances this season. At that time, they were also dealing with a slew of injuries on their back end. A younger team got even younger and at a pivotal position.

“Even when things were going really good this year, we have not come off of we’re rebuilding here,” Tortorella said. “The deadline showed everybody that, we’re rebuilding. So for them to take some punches here and there, some ebbs and flows and momentum swings, and just stay within themselves, they should feel good about that.”

Tortorella was asked if part of the Flyers’ process is learning how to deal with expectations and pressure.

“That’s good for them,” the head coach said. “Some of the scrutiny was brought onto the team, not in a good light.”

After the ugly 9-3 loss to the Canadiens a week ago, Tortorella said he heard outside noise that the Flyers had quit.

He wasn’t having it Tuesday morning.

“Not a chance,” Tortorella said. “I’ll tell you right now, there wasn’t a goddamn second that those guys quit. You’ve got to be really careful how you use that word. No matter what context you want to put it in — at who, whatever — they didn’t quit for a second.

“But for them to hear it, for them to be questioned, all of us. That’s part of the process. You don’t complain about it. You go about your business, but you learn how to handle those type of situations. Really important for basically a pretty young group out there.”

• Samuel Ersson converted 16 saves on 17 shots in the finale.

Alex Ovechkin gave the Capitals a 1-0 with 1:52 minutes left in the first period. The future Hall of Famer, heading toward the blue paint, had a pass go off of him.

The 24-year-old rookie Ersson appeared in 51 games and 32 of the Flyers’ last 38. Tortorella said the Flyers originally had Ersson penciled in to play 18 to 22 games.

The Flyers played five goalies this season. They lost Carter Hart on Jan. 23 when the No. 1 goalie requested a personal leave of absence because of a sexual assault case. The Flyers finished with two rookies in net: Ersson and 27-year-old Ivan Fedotov, who arrived two and a half weeks ago.

Ersson was a big reason the Flyers stayed in it all season and didn’t flounder without Hart. But down the stretch, the Flyers struggled to get saves from their goalies. They entered the finale with the league’s second-to-lowest save percentage (.884).

“Let’s face it, things got thrown into a really weird situation when we lost Carter,” Tortorella said a little over a week ago. “But having said that, we had discussions in the summer about the situation with Carter and figured something was going to go on, right? We’ve got to be honest about it, it’s not a great situation for our team when we lost him. But it showed me a lot of good things about a specific guy in Ers, how he handled it. But it has been a lot. I made the decision — I made the decision — that I’m going to live or die with Ers when I played him all those games.”

Capitals netminder Charlie Lindgren stopped 27 of the Flyers’ 28 shots.

With the game tied 1-1 and the Flyers threatening to take their first lead, Lindgren robbed Travis Konecny in front. The save came with 2:11 minutes left in the second period.

• When Ovechkin scored, it pretty much capped off a frustrating first period for the Flyers.

Tortorella’s club thought it had a 1-0 lead of its own on a wacky play.

Joel Farabee fired a shot that went off of Lindgren and directly into air. Referee Kelly Sutherland thought Lindgren had it swallowed and sounded the whistle. In Sutherland’s defense, nobody else saw the puck. It then came down and ricocheted into the net off of Farabee’s leg.

A lengthy video review confirmed it was not a goal. After a whistle, a continuous shot can’t touch anyone for it to be a good goal.

• A big storyline heading into the offseason will be the Flyers’ league-worst power play. The issues on the man advantage preceded assistant coach Rocky Thompson, who oversees the units and is in his second season.

But the Flyers’ inability to seldom swing momentum on the power play cost them dearly.

An interesting offseason begins for the Flyers, who need to decipher what the next steps are in their rebuild.

The Flyers have two first-round selections in the June 28-29 NHL entry draft. Free agency opens July 1 at noon ET.

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