PHILADELPHIA — After 20 minutes, the Flyers held a 1-0 lead. But the Bruins were still in good shape.
The power line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton had strong legs. The Flyers didn’t have many scoring chances in the first period.
But the Bruins’ wheels fell off in the second.
In that period, the Bruins submitted one of their most careless and feeble 20-minute stretches of the season. They couldn’t complete passes. Pucks hopped off sticks. They turned over the puck regularly. They didn’t make life hard on Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Bruins never recovered from that wretched period. The down-and-out Flyers, second-to-last in the Eastern Conference standings heading into the game, grabbed a 3-1 win Saturday before 19,997 at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I thought the second period was probably the most disorganized and erratic from our end of it,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Guys fanning on one-timers, bobbling pucks, guys squeezing their sticks.
“We’ve got to relax a little bit. But we’ve also got to wake up and start playing Bruins hockey, because that’s not what we’re playing right now.’’
The Bruins should have been snarling for a 2-point result. They were coming off the slap of acquiring Jarome Iginla, then watching him skate to Pittsburgh.
They had given up another third-period lead, their fifth of the month, in Wednesday’s 6-5 shootout loss to Montreal. For the final time this season, they had enjoyed a two-day break between games. They should have been physically and mentally fresh.
The Flyers were missing three regular defensemen (Andrej Meszaros, Nicklas Grossman, Braydon Coburn), to say nothing of ex-captain Chris Pronger, whose career is most likely over.
Instead, the Bruins turned in a zero-passion, one-line effort against a team that probably will not make the playoffs.
“Right now, there’s not a lot of life, because there’s nothing to get excited about,’’ Julien said. “You have a good shift. Then the next line goes out and takes that life away from you. Then we’re back to square one.
“Then you need somebody else to give you some life again. When you’re not able to sustain much, it’s hard to get those wins.’’
The Bruins’ best line has been Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin. The Lucic-Krejci-Horton threesome has been the most disappointing unit.
On Saturday, the roles were reversed. The Bergeron line was invisible. Krejci & Co. combined for eight of the Bruins’ 34 shots. They scored the only goal of the game.
In the third period, down, 2-0, Lucic set up in front of the net. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg wound up for a shot from the right point. Seidenberg’s shot didn’t go through. But as the Flyers were occupied tangling with Lucic, Horton crashed the net and bumped the puck past Bryzgalov at 5:00 of the third, making it a 2-1 game.
But the Bruins couldn’t get close to scoring the equalizer. Ruslan Fedotenko closed out the game with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
“Going down, 2-0, teams know how to play good defense,’’ Horton said. “It’s tough to get goals. But we knew we were back in it. We knew we could score. We got one. We just couldn’t get that next one.’’
It’s difficult for the Bruins to get rolling when the engine misfires regularly. Krejci’s line cycled well, generated scoring chances, and put pucks on net.
But the Bruins couldn’t get sustained pressure from the other three lines. The peaks the Krejci line delivered weren’t enough to overcome the dips in energy and execution that the other forwards submitted.
“The biggest challenge is that every game, we’ve got one line scoring, and the other three don’t do a thing,’’ Julien said. “It’s a different line another game and the other three don’t .
“We can’t win hockey games just relying on one line every night producing for us.’’
It doesn’t help that the Bruins are always chasing the game. For the fourth straight match, they fell behind by at least two goals. In the first period, ex-Bruin Mike Knuble potted a power-play goal at 15:19. At 3:18 of the second, after taking a cross-ice pass from Jakub Voracek, Matt Read snapped an off-speed shot that Tuukka Rask (19 saves) couldn’t turn back.
“It’s 2-0 again, and I think that’s been happening to us too much lately,’’ Rask said. “Not that they’ve been bad goals or anything like that. We just can’t bear down and get that lead.’’