Flyers boosted by John Tortorella’s return, but ‘self-inflict’ in loss to Bruins

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BOSTON — For a while, it looked like John Tortorella’s return to the Philadelphia Flyers bench after a two-game suspension was just what they needed. The Flyers went toe-to-toe on the road with one of the best teams in the league in the Boston Bruins for two periods at TD Garden, and entered the third tied 2-2.

But then the Bruins took control, scoring three goals in a little more than four minutes to start the final frame, and even though the Flyers valiantly clawed back late, they still eventually fell 6-5. They’ve now lost three of four (0-3-1), and four of six (2-3-1), failing to take advantage of similar struggles from the teams around them that are also fighting for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

It did, though, seem like they missed their coach after his hijinks last Saturday in Tampa Bay earned him the two-game ban and a $50,000 fine. The Flyers took a number of undisciplined penalties that would have earned them Tortorella’s ire in their slim 3-2 over the lowly Sharks on Tuesday, and then were flat from the start in Thursday’s 6-2 pasting by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Whether that was a direct effect of Tortorella not pacing back and forth behind the bench in his jet-black tracksuit is a matter for debate, but Scott Laughton indicated that the vibes were a little bit different without him hovering from above.

“It’s different. You hear him a lot of the game, a lot of people don’t see it but it’s a lot of positive encouragement out there,” Laughton said. “It gets you going. Yeah, he was missed. Anytime you don’t have your head coach it’s a little weird feeling.”

They relocated their hard-working identity to start the game in Boston, probably in part because of Tortorella’s return but also Laughton’s direct words after Thursday’s defeat. Ryan Poehling’s goal off the rush from Garnet Hathaway after Egor Zamula forced David Pastrnak into a turnover at 4:18 gave them that all-important first score, and when Morgan Geekie tied it later in the frame, it was Joel Farabee’s power play-influenced redirection at 12:01 of the second that gave the Flyers their lead back.

But Charlie Coyle re-tied it on the power play after a clean face-off win by Pavel Zacha later in the second, and the Flyers unraveled with too many breakdowns over the course of the first 4:04 of the third, leading to another goal from Coyle, and two more from John Beecher and Jake DeBrusk.

Tortorella bemoaned Cam York’s coincidental minor roughing penalty with DeBrusk at the 20-minute mark of the second as part of the reason the defense came undone. On Coyle’s goal that gave the Bruins the lead for good, he breezed through Laughton and Travis Konecny in the offensive zone before flipping it high over Sandstrom just 1:08 into the period.

Beecher was left wide open on the fourth goal at 3:45, as all five Flyers were caught puck-watching. On DeBrusk’s goal that made it 5-2, a failed clear by Sean Couturier was the primary culprit before the Bruins forward was left all alone to cut to the blue paint.

It was much too easy, and it was the difference.

“We self-inflict sometimes, and we’re just not deep enough right now,” Tortorella said. “We can’t have (Travis Sanheim) or Yorkie in the penalty box for any time during the game, how thin we are on the back end. We were really concerned with the four-on-four at the beginning of the period, not having Yorkie. I thought we had a lot of good minutes, I thought we had patience to our game. We just couldn’t sustain it for the full 60.”

Farabee said: “It sucks. We can say we liked the effort and we competed and things like that but at the end of the day we need the two points. Personally, I like the effort. Definitely sucks, especially going into the third period tied. We really felt like we gave ourselves a chance to win.”

It’s not much of a surprise at this point, but the Flyers didn’t go away quietly even after that barrage. Tortorella called a timeout after the Bruins upped their lead to 5-2, an obvious indication that he believed his club would still be able to make a game of it with 15:56 to go.

What was the message?

“I didn’t say a word.,” Tortorella said. “I don’t need to say anything to the team during a time out.”

Said Couturier: “It was just about taking a deep breath and trying to find some fight in us the rest of the game.”

Eventually, a goal from an unlikely source brought the Flyers back to within 5-3, as Nic Deslauriers slipped through his first of the season at 14:12. Then Morgan Frost delivered his goal-of-the-year candidate at 15:14, going between the legs before lifting it above Jeremy Swayman.

But then came the backbreaking game-winner. Danton Heinen’s wrist shot from a difficult angle at 17:01 went bar down on Felix Sandstrom, who was making his second start of the season for an overworked Samuel Ersson, who had been pulled in two of the previous three games.

Sandstrom made some dazzling saves early, but that one left a bad taste.

“For sure I want to come up with a save there,” he said. “We’ve been pushing for a bit and they get a break, and the guy goes bar down. For sure I want to be able to step up there and give the team a save.”

The Flyers’ immediate schedule won’t get any easier, with games against the Maple Leafs at home again on Tuesday, in Carolina on Thursday, and back-to-back next weekend with the Bruins and Panthers, respectively, at Wells Fargo Center.

Saturday’s game seemed to indicate how important it is they have their coach back there leading the way. That coach, though, has his most difficult work ahead, with several key defensemen still out, a pair of struggling goalies, and the newness of a playoff chase for so many of the young players on the roster.

The fight in them early and late on Saturday was encouraging to Tortorella. Securing a playoff spot, though, is now the goal.

“We’ve got to be really careful with the moral victories here,” Tortorella said. “I appreciate how hard we worked and kept on playing. We’ve got to find a way to get points.”

(Photo: Bob DeChiara / USA Today)

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