NEW YORK -- Danny Briere wanted to answer the question, but it's tough to do when you have no answers.
Outside of an early goal by Mike Richards just 40 seconds into Friday night's game, the Philadelphia Flyers were as flat as a pancake in the first period and despite coming back from a two-goal deficit in the second, they could never quite overcome their early woes.
"I can't explain it," Briere said.
Philadelphia fell to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 4-3, and now faces the equivalent of a Game 7 Sunday back home at the Wachovia Center against these same Rangers. The team that wins will make the playoffs, but if Montreal and Boston lose out, the Flyers can still get in with an overtime/shootout loss.
That's not on their weekend agenda. Getting out of the gate fast is.
"We have to be ready right in the first period; we can't wait and let them dictate like they did tonight," Briere said. "I don't know. I thought tonight, I don't know what it was but we didn't look like a very confident group in the first period. That's the mindset we have to change going into Game 7. This is exciting; it's what we play for."
For some reason it appeared Richards' goal off a brutal turnover by defenseman Marc Staal did more for the Rangers than it did the Flyers, whose next shot on goal came more than 17 minutes later. The Rangers scored twice on nine shots in between.
"It shouldn't be that way," Briere said.
Now just imagine what would have happened if Staal didn't turn the puck over leading to Richards' goal?
"We're probably coming back after the first period down 2-0 because it was probably the only chance we had in the first period," Briere said. "We didn't want the puck. We weren't skating. Everything was wrong about it."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette couldn't tell if it was a confidence problem on the part of the Flyers, but he agreed that his team looked jittery in the first period.
"You'd rather go down swinging than go down waiting and seeing," Laviolette said. "You'd rather swing for the fence, and in the first period we didn't do that."
The Flyers did in the second period. They came out fast and had four shots on goal within the first three minutes, but Marian Gaborik's hard rush down the right side led to Brandon Dubinsky's goal at 6:58 to make it 3-1.
Gaborik got around Matt Carle and took the puck behind the goal line before slotting a pass to Dubinsky, who was knifing through the middle and slammed it by goalie Brian Boucher.
Chris Pronger let Dubinsky skate by him and get to the net. Pronger took the blame for the goal, saying Boucher did everything right but he just didn't move his feet quick enough to get the puck before Dubinsky.
"I have to get that, I'm right there," Pronger said. "That's my puck, that's not Boosh's. Boosh is following him as he goes behind the net and he's not sure where the puck is. If he cheats to that side he can wrap and go around the net. That's my puck."
Briere cut into the deficit with a goal just 88 seconds later and Richards' second of the night at 14:41 tied the game at 3-3. Now the Flyers were not only playing their hard skating, grinding game, but they were given new life in a tie game.
However, Pronger's rough night continued just over two minutes after Richards' goal when he turned over the bouncing puck to Gaborik in the neutral zone and the Rangers' sniper capitalized with his 42nd goal of the season at 16:54.
Gaborik's shot from the left circle deflected off Carle's stick and went high over Boucher's catching glove. It turned out to be the game-winner.
"Bounces like that are going to happen," Pronger said, "but we certainly can't let those things beat us."
The Flyers didn't necessarily believe it was Gaborik's goal that beat them. Pronger even said by the five-minute mark of the second period he thought they were skating well and controlling the pace of the game. They obviously weren't deterred by Dubinsky's goal.
And, after killing off two penalties in the third period, the Flyers were all over the Rangers again, dominating in the offensive zone. They had eight shots on goal in the final 10 minutes of the game, including a couple of Grade A chances.
If the Flyers would have played that way in the first period, they might have clinched their playoff berth Friday, turning Sunday's game into nothing more than a tune-up.
"You saw when we got pucks in deep, played physical, created some chances and drove the net hard, we not only got some goals but some offensive opportunities and some in-zone time," Pronger said. "We were cycling the puck, grinding and relentless on the puck. That's the way we have to play for 60 minutes."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl