PHILADELPHIA — Scott Hartnell would never have been so bold as to expect the Philadelphia Flyers to sweep the New Jersey Devils.
But the All-Star forward is perfectly blunt about the state of the Flyers heading into Game 4 on Sunday.
Trailing 2-1 in the Eastern Conference series is unacceptable.
“I don’t think we thought we were going to win four straight,” Hartnell said Friday, “but definitely they’ve played a lot stronger and a lot harder than me personally would have thought they’d come with.”
The Devils have outworked the Flyers throughout three games of the conference semifinals and have earned every ounce of their lead. The Flyers are being outskated and outhustled in every aspect on the ice.
It’s the Devils way, though. It’s just strange to see it happen against a Flyers team that manhandled Pittsburgh.
The Flyers are clearly feeling the pressure from playing as the favorites. They face a series deficit for the first time this postseason and are 7-19 in franchise history when trailing a series 2-1.
Claude Giroux has slumped after a sizzling six-goal series against the Penguins. So magnificent in the opening round, the power play has been abysmal — including a glaring 0 for 2 in overtime in Thursday’s 4-3 Game 3 loss. Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds have been invisible this postseason. The Flyers went more than 18 minutes without a shot in the second period of Game 2.
“It’s frustrating to almost always be defending the whole game,” Hartnell said. “It’s definitely something that needs to be addressed.”
The Flyers are a miserable 2 of 17 on the power play after scoring a franchise-record 12 power-play goals against the Penguins.
“We continue to look at it regardless of success or not success,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
The Flyers had two days to figure it all out before Game 4 on Sunday. Both teams had Friday off.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer knows how the Flyers feel. His team trailed the Florida Panthers 2-1 and 3-2 before storming back to win the final two games in overtime.
The difference between 3-1 and 2-2 entering Game 5 is monumental and the Devils understand the Flyers will come out of their corner swinging.
“I think desperation is probably the word,” DeBoer said. “I know when we were in that spot in that series, you usually play your best game. You have to walk a fine line with belligerence and discipline in these playoffs. We’re only halfway there. We’ve got a lot of work to do. This is a very dangerous team.”
No Flyer has the potential to lead a comeback like Giroux. He’s done little since scoring a Game 1 goal and glumly acknowledged Thursday night he needed to step up his game. Giroux is the one who fuels the high-octane offense, and his absence on the scoresheet affects everyone.
Danny Briere has perfected his role as their clutch postseason star.
Giroux needs to be there alongside him.
“I think there’s always pressure. I don’t necessarily see him struggling with that,” Laviolette said. “I think in a game like last night, there’s a disappointment that we’re not successful. We lost a game in overtime and we had looks and opportunities to win.”
Hartnell has only two postseason goals after leading the Flyers with 37 in the regular season. James van Riemsdyk is still finding his legs after missing time with a broken foot. After Giroux and Briere, no other Flyer has more than three postseason goals.
Hartnell said the Flyers have to return to the recipe that made them the prohibitive favorite in this series.
“I don’t expect Claude Giroux to go in and hit (Dainius) Zubrus or (Bryce) Salvador and those guys. That’s my job,” he said. “I’ve got to get back to hitting and those guys have got to get back to handling the puck and doing what they do with the puck with me going to the net. I think we’re all just kind of out of sorts with each other.”
It’s much different on the other side of the ledger for a Devils team with three overtime wins this postseason.
“We have guys that are elevating their game right now at the right time for us,” captain Zach Parise said.
The Devils were thrilled to have superstar Ilya Kovalchuk back in the lineup for Game 3 after a one-game absence because of an undisclosed injury.
He said Friday he was feeling strong and ready to go for Game 4.
Winning has a way of making all the Devils feel good.
“I think the atmosphere in the room is unbelievable,” Kovalchuk said. “We’re just playing for each other.”