PHILADELPHIA -- Scott Laughton struggled to find the words to sum up a Philadelphia Flyers season that no one expected minutes after it ended in a way no one could have foreseen.

The Flyers defied expectations to reach the final game of the season with a chance to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it ended with them allowing a tie-breaking empty-net goal with 3:00 remaining in the third period of a 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday.

"From the start of the year, I think everyone was counting us out," Laughton said. "Probably had that eight-game losing streak (0-6-2 from March 24-April 9) at the worst time of the year. Couldn't really regain ground and that's what cost us. Played pretty good hockey, pretty stingy hockey, for most of the year. This one hurts though.

"In the playoffs all year, get out. It's tough. It's a tough pill to swallow. This one's probably the toughest."

The Flyers openly have embraced a rebuilding effort and were not expected to be a team that contended for a playoff spot coming off a season where they finished third to last in the Eastern Conference. Playing some meaningful games after the NHL All-Star break in early February was a realistic goal.

Instead, they spent most of the season as a top-three team in the Metropolitan Division, only falling out of a playoff position after a 6-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 6.

They won two in a row before Tuesday to keep their game against the Capitals meaningful. But they needed so many pucks to bounce right, including a regulation win on Tuesday, which is why they pulled the goalie in a tie game in regulation.

They also needed a regulation loss by the Detroit Red Wings against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday (the Red Wings won in overtime), then a regulation loss by the Pittsburgh Penguins against the New York Islanders on Wednesday, but having it get to that point made for a frustrating end to the season.

"No one really gave us a chance, and here we are in Game 82 and we're fighting for a playoff spot," captain Sean Couturier said. "So that's a big positive. But obviously right now it's tough to really swallow and accept the fact that we were such in a good position a couple of weeks ago. Just couldn't get it done."

Though the negative of the moment will last for a bit, coach John Tortorella chose to see the positives, especially for a team that went 38-33-11, a seven-win improvement over last season.

"I'm proud of the team," he said. "They fought to the end."

And the belief is a group of players that skews younger will benefit from this experience. Three of their top-five point producers (Owen Tippett, 25, Joel Farabee, 24 and Morgan Frost, 24) and three of their top four goal-scorers (Tippett, Farabee and Tyson Foerster, 22) are 25 or younger, as are three of their top-six defensemen, Jamie Drysdale, 21; Cam York, 23; and Egor Zamula, 24.

"As a young team, the quicker and the sooner you can play these meaningful games down the stretch, it's great experience," Couturier said. "I just hope, and we'll make sure, that we don't take this for granted."

Defenseman Erik Johnson, at age 36 standing on the other end of the spectrum, sees a promising future for the Flyers after being part of it for 17 games following his acquisition in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on March 8.

"They should be really proud as a young group that no one really gave a chance to," he said. "To be right there at Game 82 ... I think it's great for those young guys. It's been talked about but tonight was Game 7, no doubt about it. And the last few games were playoff games as well.

"To go through experiences like that as a young player it only kind of makes the trajectory of your career a little bit better because you get used to those games at a younger age. Maybe my first playoff series I was 24, so not super young but still not an established player. So coming into a game like tonight there is no nerves because I've seen it all and I think if you have players on this team that haven't seen something like this and they go through it like they did, it's going to help them in the long run because those nerves will be a lot lower.

“You know what to expect in tight games like this so it's great for those guys. While it wasn't officially a playoff game, this stretch games are huge for their development."

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