PHILADELPHIA — There were massive piles of snow outside the Flyers’ arena last night, but things were bright and sunny inside before the game.
Despite the half-foot of snow dumped on Philadelphia, and more in the suburbs, Flyers fans showed up for the game. After all, it was against the Penguins. Quite a few Pittsburgh fans were in attendance, too. It was a great atmosphere for a March hockey game.
The Flyers were in last place in the Metropolitan Division at the start of the calendar year, a point behind the Penguins. But the Flyers and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs have both been on a roll: The winner of last night’s game would move into first place in the division, and if the Flyers won in overtime, the two teams would be tied with Washington atop the division.
The Pens led after the first period, but goals from Jake Voracek and Travis Konecny put the Flyers ahead 2-1 early in the second. The video board showed the Eagles’ Mychal Kendricks and Jason Kelce. The Flyers gave Kelce a fancy hat and he led cheers for the Flyers and Eagles. The arena was rocking.
Then the Penguins scored three goals in 10 minutes and the game was over. Jamie Oleksiak, the longtime Dallas Stars defenseman, tied it. A pair of goals five minutes apart from Conor Sheary put the Penguins in front. They added an empty-netter for the final 5-2 margin. And Philadelphia groaned again.
The Flyers and Penguins have played 284 times, and the Flyers are 153-92-39. They have a big advantage over their chief rivals in all-time record. But, in recent years, the Penguins have pulled ahead of the Flyers in one key statistic: Number of Stanley Cups won. They now have five.
In one 364-day stretch between 2016 and 2017, the Penguins won as many Stanley Cups as the Flyers have in their entire history. A Penguins fan gloated before the game, holding up a “1975” sign up against the glass as the Flyers warmed up. The last Flyers’ Stanley Cup is now ancient history, a taunt other teams can use against Philly fans. Well, other teams besides Toronto.
But maybe things were changing. The Flyers roster has holes, but they’d been lights-out in 2018. They lost just six games in January and February. They’ve struggled in March, true, but a home game against the Penguins was just the place to right it. Maybe this could even be the start of a shift of the balance of power away from the Crosby-Malkins teams that have been so successful.
Instead, it ended in a loss. The Flyers aren’t there yet. The Penguins aren’t done. Now in first place, they might just win another Cup this year. And the specter of 1975 grows larger every day.