March 25-- Jake Voracek said a thing, as Jake Voracek will.
The thing he said was compelling, as is often the case.
The thing he said also was wrong, which is seldom the case.
"We choked," Voracek said. "We couldn't find a way to win those big games, and that's why we are where we are right now."
He spoke after the Flyers' loss at Washington on Sunday, which left them eight points out of the final wild-card spot. He spoke about the Flyers' recent performances against the three teams ahead of them in the wild-card race: Montreal, Columbus and Carolina.
He spoke in error.
The Flyers are where they are right now, to borrow Jake's phrase, because they lack size, speed, and depth.
They are where they are because defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is a minus-15 and has 29 fewer points than last season, when he broke out with 65. Because Wayne Simmonds, who appeared hindered by old injuries, was a minus-20 when the Flyers traded him at the deadline. Because center Nolan Patrick, in his second season, didn't take a step forward, and because defenseman Ivan Provorov, in his third season, took a step back-at least, he did for the first 44 games, after which he was minus-17. He's plus-1 since.
They're here, and they're finished, because they used an NHL-record eight goaltenders, due not only to injury but also ineptness. Because rookie goaltender Carter Hart was called up a little too late to save them, and because veteran goaltender Brian Elliott missed 40 games with a core injury that lingered from last season.
They're here because fired coach Dave Hakstol was too unyielding, protected and enabled by fired general manager Ron Hextall.
That isn't choking. That's rising to the level of your ability. After 76 games, that level is, accurately, 80 points.
The rest is fool's gold. The Flyers are 24-17-4 since Hart's debut, which coincided with the debut of interim coach Scott Gordon, who changed both the scheme and the climate; the rink became a warmer place when Hakstol left.
It's easy to understand Voracek's frustration. Maybe his mind only lets him remember the shortcomings against the three teams closest to the Flyers, and ignores the tremendous play in other games.
The Flyers lost, 5-1, at Montreal on Feb. 21. But then they beat the Penguins, 4-3 in overtime, two days later, a sodden Stadium Series game played at Lincoln Financial Field. They lost in Columbus, 4-3 in overtime, Feb. 28, but even that trip got them a point-and then they beat the Devils, and they upset the second-place Islanders, on the road, twice in the same week. They traveled to Pittsburgh on March 17, and they beat the Pens again.
But then they lost to the Canadiens, 3-1, last Tuesday, a four-point swing that left Claude Giroux as despondent as I've ever seen him after a game. That spelled the end, and Captain Claude knew it. Imagine what the dressing room must have been like-a dressing room without Voracek, third on the team with 64 points but suspended for an effective hit later deemed illegal. The Flyers mostly didn't show up for the first period-or, rather, because they couldn't show up. It was their fourth game in six days, and the 73rd game of the season.
That isn't choking. That's exhaustion.
Certainly, a couple of wins in the three recent matchups against Columbus and Montreal would have made the season's final week compelling, since the Flyers face Carolina twice. They lost to the Hurricanes twice earlier this season, on New Year's Eve and three days later, but they were in the middle of an eight-game winless streak, and the playoffs weren't on anyone's mind back then. You can't choke when it doesn't matter.
What is choking, anyway? It's when you perform beneath an expected standard.
The Flyers' goal differential is a horrid minus-23. That's 31 goals worse than Montreal, 33 worse than Columbus and 42 worse than Carolina. If one of those teams let the Flyers catch them, now, that would be choking.
What is choking? It's Jordan Spieth on the 12th hole at Augusta in 2016, or Dustin Johnson on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open in 2015.
We've seen choking in Philly, too, and recently. We've seen Sixers coach Brett Brown let Game 2 of the second-round playoff series against the Celtics get away from him. We've seen Alshon Jeffery drop a crucial pass in New Orleans at the NFC divisional playoff game.
The incident needn't define the victim. Brown is an excellent coach. Jeffery is a boss receiver. Spieth won the British Open with a brilliant, late charge the year after his meltdown. DJ won the U.S. Open the year after his three-putt on No. 18 at Chambers Bay.
But choking happens only when expectations go unmet.
God bless Jake Voracek, but that's just not the case with these Flyers.
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