PHILADELPHIA — These are not the kind of words we’ve ever heard from Auston Matthews.
“We just folded, kind of just quit,” said Matthews. “The game was over and we didn’t play to that last buzzer. We can’t be doing that. Not to a guy like Freddie [Andersen], not to our starting goalie, I mean we’ve just got to have a little bit more pride than that.”
The frustration was palpable after the Toronto Maple Leafs saw a tied game in the third period turn into a 6-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. The ending was so ugly that it forced new head coach Sheldon Keefe to forego his own rule of staying out of the dressing room post-game because he felt the need to address his players about playing with pride.
“We want to be a team of high character, and that cares for one another, and I thought we just left our goaltender completely out to dry there and stopped playing,” said Keefe.
There was no convenient excuse for what happened here at Wells Fargo Center — not like the one they’ll have built-in Wednesday when they face a rested, dangerous Colorado Avalanche team with struggling backup Michael Hutchinson between the pipes.
The Leafs had been 4-1 since Keefe replaced Mike Babcock and were coming off a practice day and a day of rest when they arrived in Philadelphia. They had a dominant first period, fell behind 1-0 with the Flyers taking control in the second and then got a lucky equalizer from Travis Dermott that bounced off Carter Hart’s shoulder and in before the midway point of the third.
They were in prime position to claim a point, maybe two.
Instead the wheels fell off and the Flyers put a five-spot on them inside a 10-minute window to close out the night.
“It’s unacceptable to do that to our starting goalie,” said Matthews. “A guy that’s stolen games for us, he’s been a brick wall for us all year. I mean that’s just unacceptable on our part. We can’t just fold, we’ve got to play that last minute because, I mean, that’s just unacceptable. We just left him out to dry.
“Breakaway, two-on-ones, I mean odd-man rushes there in the last minute and suddenly the score’s 6-1. That’s on us. That just can’t happen.”
Matthews had a tough night.
He was among the Leafs who lost track of Claude Giroux before the Flyers captain made it 2-1 and then lost his focus by taking an interference penalty for sweeping Giroux’s stick into the neutral zone.
Travis Konecny scored shortly after that expired at 16:32, Joel Farabee hit an empty net at 17:54, Shayne Gostisbehere took advantage of a poor Leafs line change to wire home a slapshot at 19:21 and James van Riemsdyk followed with a breakaway deke at 19:33.
“Tight hockey game and just unacceptable by us kind of letting it get out of hand the way it did,” said captain John Tavares. “I think we’ve got to play a lot better no matter the score right until the end, especially in front of our goaltenders.”
Andersen has been the brightest light in this roller-coaster Leafs season. He posted better than a .900 save percentage in 10 of his 11 November starts and was sharp early against Philadelphia.
However, he bore the brunt of the late Flyers goal barrage.
That wasn’t top of mind, though, before leaving a building where he memorably tuned up his team following an overtime loss here in January 2018.
“I don’t really worry about me,” said Andersen. “I worry more about the way we played for the logo on the jersey. I think we’ve got to [have] more pride than that. Hopefully we can respond and show what kind of character we have going forward.”
That’s a tough ask against an Avalanche squad that hung 12 goals on the Chicago Blackhawks during a home-and-home last weekend. It’ll also be an emotional night with Nazem Kadri making his first return to Scotiabank Arena since his July 1 trade to Colorado.
Searching for silver linings, Keefe expressed hope that the ugly finish in Philadelphia might get everyone’s attention.
“It’s a tough way to go but big picture it’s probably a better way for things to finish for us to get the shakeup perhaps that we need going into tomorrow’s game,” he said. “We’ll continue to make strides, but we don’t have a whole lot of time here. We’re going to right back at it with a very good team waiting for us in Toronto.
“So we’ve got to regroup here very quickly and hopefully the way this game finished will leave a sour enough taste in our mouth that we’ll be coming out tomorrow to show that we’re a different group.”
They certainly talked the talk. Now they need to back it up.