The New York Rangers made it a perfect four-for-four this season with a 5-2 victory Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was bad enough that the team dropped five points behind the Rangers -- who also hold two games in hand on Philadelphia -- for the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference leads, but the "You can't beat us!" chant that rained down from the Madison Square Garden crowd rubbed a healthy dose of salt into the open Philly wounds.
A day after digging themselves a gigantic 6-0 hole against the New Jersey Devils at home before scoring four times to make the final score respectable, the Flyers had plenty of chances to break through in the 'W' column for the first time against their arch-rivals this year.
Even though they spotted the Rangers a quick 1-0 lead just 1:04 into the contest when Artem Anisimov deflected a Dan Girardi shot past Ilya Bryzgalov, the team would hold strong to give themselves a shot.
The Flyers missed a HUGE opportunity to tie the game early in the second stanza. With a delayed penalty coming up on New York's Stu Bickel for interfering with Erik Gustafsson and Bryzgalov pulled for an extra attacker, two Rangers broke their sticks. Philly took advantage and manufactured extended pressure in the NY zone. Brian Boyle, one of the Rangers with no stick, courageously dove to block one point shot. Then Claude Giroux spotted Brayden Schenn open to the right of Henrik Lundqvist, but the pass hopped over his stick. In the split second it took Schenn to gather control and get a shot off, Lundqvist was able to get his blocker on the shot and it deflected harmlessly to the corner.
After taking a slashing minor midway through the second, Schenn would play an integral part in getting the Flyers on the board. Although Derek Stepan fanned on an open net on a goalmouth pass, the penalty killers otherwise did a good job in keeping it at a 1-0 deficit. Jakub Voracek sent Schenn in on a breakaway from the blue line in as he exited the penalty box, and the 20-year-old made all the right moves in deking Lundqvist to the ice and roffing a backhander to knot the score at 1-1 at the 12:02 mark.
It was a big positive for Schenn, who was dropped by Ilya Kovalchuk in a fight Saturday afternoon. With having suffered a concussion earlier in the year, it was a good sign that he felt no ill affects.
Each of the losses to the Rangers has followed a basic formula, and today was no different. Lundqvist covered up whenever his teammates made the odd mistake, and it seemed like every Flyers miscue ended up with the puck in the back of their own net.
Play was pretty even following Schenn's goal but as they done in the loss to the Devils yesterday, a goal yielded in the last minute of a period would haunt the Flyers. Marian Gaborik, who had just gotten up slowly behind the net after being hammered into the boards by Andrej Meszaros, regained possession of the puck and tried a low-percentage wraparound backhander coming out from behind the Flyers' cage. Bryzgalov correctly had his stick along the ice but allowed it to angle back towards himself. The puck incredibly ramped up the stick and hit under his outstretched right arm, then trickled across the line with just 5.1 seconds remaining in the middle frame.
It was the type of weak goal that had been absent from Bryzgalov's game since returning from the All-Star break, but it came at the worst-possible time. Unfortunately for his teammates, it would not be the last for the day.
Give the Flyers credit, after yielding such a horrible goal at a crucial stage of a game has led to falling apart in the next period in the past.
Instead, Wayne Simmonds continued his red hot play by ripping a power play goal top shelf in the first minute of the third to again tie the contest. The 'Wayne Train' now has four tallies over the course of a three-game goal-scoring streak, and set a personal best with his 17th of the season. Simmonds now sits third in the team goal-scoring race, behind only Scott Hartnell (25) and Giroux (20).
While the rest of the team seemed energized by the goal, Bryzgalov appeared to still be bothered by letting in the weak Gaborik goal. After Marc-Andre Bourdon turned the puck over in the Rangers' zone, Gaborik carried it into the Flyers' zone and hit the trailer, Michael Del Zotto, straight away in the slot. While it was an unscreened shot from the slot area, Bryzgalov didn't seem to get set in preparation of making a stop. The shot squeezed through the Philly netminder for a 3-2 New York lead, just 36 ticks of the clock after Simmonds had tied it up.
It was an absolute back-breaker, one from which the Flyers would not be able to recover.
Lundqvist erased every Ranger mistake the rest of the way, and 'King Henrik' finished the day with 21 saves on 23 shots. Conversely, Philadelphia's errors led to goals for the home team. Brandon Dubinsky, who is struggling through his worst NHL campaign, scored an insurance goal off a Matt Carle turnover, and ex-Flyer Ruslan Fedetenko hit the empty net late to seal Philly's fate, 5-2.
It looks like the Flyers could have benefitted from Giroux and Hartnell taking time off instead of participating in the NHL All-Star Game. The top line of Hartnell - Giroux - Jaromir Jagr had another tough day at the office, finishing with two power play assists (Hartnell and Giroux) while ending the day a combined -10 (Hartnell -4, Giroux and Jagr each -3). The trio has had little consistent even strength success in some time, with most of their production coming while on the man advantage.
With the prospect of having a chance to be sitting atop the conference standings before the weekend began, the Orange-and-Black came up really small in two demoralizing defeats. The most important thing for the Flyers is they need to get things back on track -- and quickly. With three games at home this week -- an area they admittedly needed to improve on with a 12-8-4 record, and just 1-1-1 since the All-Star break -- this could be a make-or-break stretch for the club. After visits from the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs, these same Rangers will invade Wells Farg o Center next Saturday afternoon.
'Contender', or 'pretender'?
It's time for the Flyers to show what they will do this season, and this week will provide a glimpse into their true overall makeup.
The Rangers have some really impressive numbers, which would suggest they're onto something big come playoff time; the Blueshirts are 28-0-2 when scoring three goals or more in a game this year, and are now 20-0-2 when leading after two periods this season. Last year they were a perfect 29-0-0, so they are 49-0-2 in their last 51 contests when holding a lead at the second intermission.
Oh, and another horrific stat for Flyers' fans -- the Rangers have outscored Philly by a 14-6 count this season.
Strange statistic of the day -- after the two afternoon losses this weekend, Philadelphia is now just 4-7-1 in games that start before 7 p.m. EST. When NHL realignment talks resume, maybe Ed Snider can make a case for the Flyers to make the move to the Western Conference?
Just a thought...
Today's Comment of the Game, courtesy of Chemistry66:
Questions to Answer
1) The Lady or the Tiger. Do the Flyers from the first 40 minutes show up, or is it the team from the final stanza?
Today it was almost the opposite. Not that the Flyers didn't play well in the third at all, but made just enough mistakes to make the score look much more lopsided than it really was.
2) One good turn deserves another. The Flyers haven't scored on the Blueshirts since Mike Rupp's controversial salute. If (when? please?) the Flyers score is there any Anisimov-ing or other celebratory trolling?
Schenn's breakaway goal was a beauty, and they even got another from Simmonds.
3) The HuMANgous big one. At the risk of jinxing him, Bryzy has looked pretty good in his last few starts. Does that continue today?
Bryz finished with 33 saves on 37 shots, but it's safe to say that the Gaborik and Del Zotto goals took the wind out of the Flyers sails.
4) Poltergiest Effect. We saw traces of it yesterday but is it possible that G and Jags are baaaaaaaaaacck?
Maybe G and Hartnell should have skipped All-Star weekend. Something still amiss in the chemistry between Giroux and JJ, as well as on the line in general.
5) Theory of Relevance. Does Shelley find a dance partner?
If he did it was in the press box, as Shelley was a healthy scratch. Tom Sestito did just fine with three separate dance cards, and Simmonds had one of his own.