Would the worst beating the Flyers had taken in years inspire them to competence?
Perhaps a 7-0 trouncing in Madison Square Garden 28 days prior would fuel the Flyers to play their dominant best against a team they had beaten the first four times they played this season – the team they beat on this ice a year before to secure themselves the last playoff spot and deny the Rangers a postseason.
The Flyers’ slog toward the postseason continued with a 3-2 shootout loss to the visiting Rangers. Two somnambulant periods found them down a goal but they tied it at 2 with a strong third period, forcing a scoreless overtime and a shootout.
Henrik Lunqvist stopped Nikolai Zherdev, the Flyers’ first shooter, and Claude Giroux didn’t get his shot off.
Meanwhile, both Erik Christensen and Wojtek Wolski beat Sergei Bobrovski with forehand wristers.
With three games to play, with the playoff set to start in the middle of next week, the Flyers stand tied atop the Eastern Conference, but with the tiebreaker in hand, over the surging Capitals.
Atop the Eastern Conference after slipping into second overnight, as surging Washington and Alex Ovechkin won and overtook them.
Bobrovsky, in his second start of the season against the Rangers – a possible first-round opponent – stopped 32 of 34 shots in regulation, that same as his opposite, Lundqvist.
A thrilling win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday made all the more mystifying Flyers losses Thursday to the Thrashers and Friday at New Jersey, teams whose offseasons essentially already had begun.
The Flyers faced a Rangers team desperate to retain the eighth spot in the East, with Carolina a point back and playing Sunday evening, and with Toronto just three behind, having won Saturday.
The Flyers played without Danny Briere, second on the team with 32 goals, tied for second with 63 points. Briere suffered frm lower body soreness, according to Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren. It was the first game of the season Briere missed due to injury; he had missed three others because of a suspension. Briere also was tied for third with six power-play goals – important, since the Flyers’ power play hadn’t scored in the past two games.
However, Briere had been smothered in previous meetings with the Rangers, collecting just one assist in four games.
Jeff Carter centered Briere’s potent line, with wingers Scott Hartnell and Ville Lieno.
Today features a trio of seismic games in the East. Carolina hosts Buffalo, and a win would tie the Hurricans with the seventh-seed Sabres at 88 points.
Fifth seed Tampa Bay visits Chicago this evening and looks to close the three-point gap separating Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, with first-round home ice at stake between those two teams.
James van Riemsdyk’s 21st goal of the season was a product of simplicity. Nikolay Zherdev won a battle behind the Rangers’ goal and stuffed the puck toward the net, a rejected try but one gathered by Claude Giroux. He passed to Sean O’Donnell on the left point and O’Donnell fired. Lundqvist stopped that shot, but the rebound stayed n the crease. Unmolested, van Riemsdyk poked it in for a 1-0 lead with 7 minutes, 35 seconds to play in the period.
The Flyers nearly survived a 5-on-3 over the last 34 seconds of the first period. With the Flyers killing a late hooking penalty by Matt Carle, Marc Staal’s dramatic collapse as Braydon Coburn’s high stick flashed in front of his face gave the Rangers a two-man advantage.
The Flyers stiffened, but they never cleared their zone. That last failure gave Bryan McCabe a last-second chance from the point. His blast ripped past Bobrovsky’s left shoulder and tied the score at 1 with 0 .7 seconds left; video review confirmed the call on the ice.
The Rangers scored again, with 6:30 left in the second, on the heels of a laughably ineffective Flyers power play. New York had managed a pair of shorthanded shots, one after the Flyers simply left the puck in limbo nerar their own blue line.
The penalty expired as the Rangers gained possession. Former Flyer Vinny Prospal exited the penalty box – he was serving for too many men on the ice – and joined the attack. Almost immediately, Prospal wound up getting an assist.
He began the play that served the puck to Staal, whose deflected shot Ruslan Fedotenko deposited for a 2-1 lead with 6:30 left in the second.
The Flyers’ next power play was less feeble but no more fruitful, running their power-play scoreless streak to 0-for-9 in their past three games. They moved to 0-for-10 in the third, which put them at 2-for-29 over the last 11 games.
The Flyers nearly repaid the Rangers’ insouciance with a tying, last-second goal of their own to end the second, but Lundqvist was equal to Danny Syvret‘s redirection of Sean O’Donnell’s slapshot, his 24th save in 25 shots
Zherdev knotted it at 2 with less than 5 minutes into the third period, during a 4-on-4 situation that became a 4-on-3 when Ryan McDonagh blocked a shot with his thigh and had to leave the ice. Before his replacement arrived, Claude Giroux found Zherdev streaking toward the goal, undefended. Lundqvist had no chance.
That goal forced the overtime, during which Kimmo Timonen had the best chance. Skating down the left side of a 2-on-1 with Jeff Carter carrying, Timonen almost whiffed on Carter’s pass.
With Briere sidelined, fringe forwards Adreas Nodl and Nikolay Zherdev both played. … So did defenseman Danny Svryet, called up Saturday. … Sean O’Donnell Brandon Prust to a draw 45 seconds into the game, but Braydon Coburn cleanly won his bout with Brian Boyle after the Rangers’ second goal. Boyle was standing up for Fedotenko, whom Coburn had just crushed along the boards and left, crumpled on the ice. … Defenseman Blair Betts did not play in the third period due to a lower body injury. … Prospal absorbed jarring hits from Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and Adrej Meszaros.
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