NEW YORK — Many thought the Flyers had little chance Thursday because starter Steve Mason was injured, forcing them to use backup goalie Ray Emery.
Funny thing is, Emery turned out to be the Flyers’ best player.
But it didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter because the Flyers’ top line was invisible, because they gave the Rangers five third-period power plays, and because they made things ridiculously easy for Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Rangers 4, Flyers 1.
Despite being badly outshot and outworked along the boards, the Flyers went into the third period tied at 1-all and with a chance to steal Game 1. (See story)
And then they reverted to their puzzling late-season form.
In their last seven regular-season games, the Flyers were outscored, 14-5, in the third period.
Fatigue seemed to be the reason. The Flyers finished a killer stretch in which they played their final 17 games — many against elite teams — in 30 days.
Fatigue, however, cannot be blamed for Thursday night’s third-period meltdown.
The Flyers had plenty of rest after the season ended — and even had an extra day before their playoff series opened Thursday in their house of horrors, Madison Square Garden.
In Thursday’s third period, they were outscored, 3-0, and outshot, 13-1. Most of the one-sided play was because the Rangers always seemed to be on the power play in the final 20 minutes.
As a result, the Flyers have now lost nine straight at Madison Square Garden, getting outscored, 35-10.
“I thought we were in a good position, tied going into the third,” Emery said. “Obviously, we would like to have a better third period, but it’s a long series. We come in here for two games. We have to get one. We thought it might be (Thursday), but I guess it’ll be the next one. We have to refocus. I’m confident if we play the way we want, we can get one.”
They won’t win in New York if their first line — Claude Giroux centering Scott Hartnell and Jake Voracek — continues to be a non-factor against the Rangers. Including the regular season, the line has combined for one goal in five games against the Rangers.
“We didn’t support each other as well as we wanted to,” said Giroux, who was shot-less in the game. “We did a lot of good things, but we did a lot of wrong things, too.”
The Rangers’ fourth line of Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett limited the Giroux line to just two shots — both by Hartnell.
Breakaways. Mason will practice Friday in New York, and if all goes well, could return to the lineup for Game 2 Sunday in New York at noon…..Vinny Lecavalier played just 7:42 and was ineffective…..The Rangers allowed the Flyers just one third-period shot, the lowest for one of their playoff opponents since Washington had no shots in a period in a 1994 game.....Rookies Jason Akeson, whose double-minor penalty led to a pair of Ranger PP goals, and Michael Raffl led the Flyers with three shots each.
Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.