The Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers, who needed one-point to clinch the conference, skated into South Philly, and beat the Flyers 5-3. This isn’t news. The Flyers are 0-6 versus the Rangers this season, including a 2-1 loss across the street at Citizens Bank Park in this season’s Winter Classic.
But the Rangers weren’t the story. The Flyers seemed to still be reeling from this past Sunday’s emotion filled affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who they’ll see one more time during the regular season, and definitely see at least four more times in the first round of the playoffs. It’s just a matter of whose building they’ll start in.
Tuesday night, the Pens beat the second place Boston Bruins, 5-3, to take a three-point lead in the standings over the Flyers. Now it comes down to the Pens losing to the Rangers on Thursday, the Flyers winning against the desperate Sabres the same night, and then the Flyers taking the final win versus the Pens at the Consol Energy Center this Saturday, where they’ve had a great deal of luck this season, going 2-0 there.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Rangers did beat the Pens on Thursday, as the Rangers have been tough lately, winning three of their last four, and seven of their last ten. However, the Pens hold a 3-2 record versus the blueshirts, including a 1-1 record at The Garden, where Thursday’s game will be played.
The Pens, on the other hand, since ending their 11-game winning streak from February 21 to March 17, have gone 4-4-1 in their last 9-games. They’ve stumbled a bit down the stretch of the season dealing with a few keys injuries, such as Kris Letang, and the re-insertion of Sidney Crosby into the lineup, since recovering from post-concussion syndrome.
The Flyers need the Pens to drop Thursday’s game to the Rangers to make their final regular season meeting on Saturday mean more than just a message sending match-up for the playoffs, which will begin on April 11.
The Flyers are dealing with their own list of injuries that just continues to mount. They’re already missing their captain Chris Pronger for the season and James van Riemsdyk with a broken foot, until at least the beginning of the first round of the playoffs. But their netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, who was named the NHL’s first star for the month of March, is dealing with a chip fracture in his right foot. He missed a total of three-games, and returned a bit rusty versus the Rangers, allowing 5-goals on 24-shots. He wasn’t hesitant in interviews to reveal anything concerning his foot, but the word rusty could be a synonym for the word painful in this case, as he’s dealing with an injury that should keep him out of the lineup for at least a couple weeks.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette wouldn’t fault his goaltender on giving up 5-talleys in his return to the net, stating he thought his team’s defense was a little loose in the first period. That could be attributed to the loss of two other main-stay defenseman, Andrej Meszaros for lower-back surgery and Nik Grossmann, also from a lower-body injury he sustained in Sunday’s match against the Pens. There’s no word when Meszaros could return, but Grossmann should only be out 7-10 days, returning him to the lineup just in time for the first round of the playoffs.
The Flyers have set a trend for giving away the lead in the first period. After Tuesday’s loss, they’ve given up a total of 32 2-goal first period leads this season. That’s a remarkable statistic, and one that doesn’t typically lead to a winning season, but the Flyers seem like coming from behind is the only way they like to play.
They put 40 shots on Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist trying to come back from being down 4-0 and 5-1, scoring twice in the second period and once in the third. In the final 40-minutes the Flyers looked like the better of the two teams, but the Rangers stingy defense, who rank sixth in the league in average shots allowed per game, at 27.9 kept the Flyers from any sustained pressure. The Rangers are also ranked third in the league in goals allowed at 173 and goals-allowed-per-game at 2.16.
The Ranger also lead the league in hits with 2,378 and are sixth in the league in blocked-shots with 656. The Rangers defense took away time and space from the Flyers forwards, and capitalized on their chances, but the Flyers never stopped coming. But when the defense failed this season’s probable Vezina Trophy favorite Lundqvist had all the answers. Lundqvist now has a 1.93 goals against average, a .931 save percentage, and 8-shutouts in 61-games this season that includes 39-wins.
If the Flyers want to take the fourth seed for the playoffs and have a better chance to move into the second round, they’ll need to tighten things up earlier than the second period, as well as get some healthy bodies back into the lineup.