After coming off back-to-back victories on home ice to even their best-of-7 series against the Blackhawks at two wins apiece, the Flyers came out flat and looked disinterested in the opening 20 minutes of a 7-4 loss Sunday that has the club teetering on the brink of elimination.
The faces on each of the players who stepped up to the microphone during the post-game news conferences told quite the disgruntled tale.
"That was probably the worst period we played the whole season," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "I don't really know what happened. We kind of sat back and kind of wanted to just get through it, but that's not the way it works. I got to give a lot of credit to them. They were skating hard and winning a lot of one-on-one battles.
"They were beating us to pucks and they were better in the first. This time of year, that's not acceptable."
It was not only their worst showing but, perhaps, the ugliest start to a hockey game the Flyers experienced this postseason. Ville Leino called it nerves. Whatever the reason for the lackadaisical start, coach Peter Laviolette was really in no mood to discuss it.
"I guess if it was nerves, it was nerves," said a curt Laviolette. "But we got outworked pretty good, we got out-battled. They were quicker to loose pucks, quicker on the forecheck. I thought we were OK. We survived probably the first six-or-seven minutes and they didn't score. I thought that was the worst of it. Then things settled down for quite some time and they capitalized on some opportunities."
Starting goalie Michael Leighton was doing all he could to keep the Flyers even in the opening 10 minutes of the first before the constant pressure and lack of a Flyers' forecheck finally got the best of him. He'd yield three goals -- in a span of 5:58 -- on 13 shots in the first and was benched in favor of Brian Boucher to open the second. It was the first time Leighton had allowed three in the game's opening period of these playoffs since Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. Of course, the Flyers would rally to score a 4-3 victory in that game, but there would be no such comeback of epic proportions this time.
"We came out slow and came out tentative, weren't moving our feet and turned a lot of pucks over," a disgusted Mike Richards said. "Where we had all of our success in this series was in not turning pucks over, getting in deep and hitting their defensemen and we had none of that going on in the first period."
The Blackhawks did more of the dirty work in the tough areas, forced four turnovers and certainly rattled Leighton's confidence. The Flyers appeared unprepared and completely unnerved by the Blackhawks' attack.
When asked if Chicago's lineup changes confused them from the outset, Richards responded, "Must have. They scored seven goals.
"I'm disappointed in everything about the game," he continued. "Seven goals is obviously a lot to give up. We came out slow and didn't move our feet. I don't think we had the physical presence as we did in the past couple of games, and it's unfortunate, but we have an opportunity on home ice to bring it to seven now."
The Flyers are 6-5 when allowing at least one goal in the opening period and 8-1 when shutting out their opponent. Leighton, incidentally, entered the game with a 0.81 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the playoffs in the first.
The Flyers did outhit the Blackhawks 23-12 in the first, but it certainly didn't seem like it. Chicago's Dustin Byfuglien led the home team's hit parade for the game with nine, including a pair of bone-rattling run-overs of Philadelphia's Chris Pronger.
"They came out hard and we didn't answer their intensity or their physicality," Pronger said.
"We have to go back to our game -- skating and forechecking hard," Timonen said. "We did that a few times in the second and created some scoring chances right away, but we have to be able to do that for 60 minutes and not just 20."
Laviolette, meanwhile, is just looking forward to getting back to the Wachovia Center with an opportunity to even up the series.
"One thing I've learned along the way about the playoffs is, one game is only one game," he said. "There's usually not a carry-over effect from game to game. You know, this is just one page of the story. Tonight it was their page. A couple of days off here and then we go back to our building where we have had a lot of success -- we'll look to win a hockey game and force (Game) 7."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale