Flyers still gunning for Rangers

Claude Giroux scored his 26th goal of the season on Thursday against the Islanders. (Matt Slocum/AP file photo)

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – After holding off a late push from the Islanders on Thursday night, the Flyers traveled to Boston to prepare for an important set of back-to-back matinees this weekend, against the Bruins at TD Garden before hosting Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Claude Giroux says the Flyers still have their sights set on catching the Rangers.

“Our main goal is always to finish first,” Giroux said after collecting his career-high 26th goal of the season. “But at the same time, our main focus is ourselves. We can’t really control what the Rangers and Pittsburgh do. I think it’s important that we stay focused on what we have to do and don’t worry about the other teams.”

Last weekend, the Flyers missed out on an opportunity to claw within 4 points of the Rangers for the first time since January. The Flyers are 6 points back of New York with 12 games to play. Pittsburgh, who beat the Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, is just 2 points up on the Flyers in 4th place in the East.

On Monday morning, the Flyers could be just 2 points back of New York and ahead of Pittsburgh with a clean sweep this weekend. The Rangers are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. They have maintained nearly a 10 point gap between themselves and the Flyers for the last month or so.

Despite posting 7 wins in their last 8 games, the Flyers frustratingly haven’t been able to make up any ground on the Penguins in the standings. Pittsburgh has won 10 in a row. And they just got Sidney Crosby back, who collected an assist in his first game since Dec. 5.

This weekend, though, should put the teams on level playing fields. Both the Flyers and Penguins play back-to-back games this weekend. Both teams will be traveling.

It’s safe to say that the Flyers won’t know anything about their playoff seeding until the last week of the season (April 1-7). The Flyers have one game left in their season series with New York (0-5-0) and 3 games left with Pittsburgh (2-1-0). They face the Penguins twice on the road and the Rangers once at home in that final week.

“I’m not concerned about the New York Rangers, the [Pittsburgh] Penguins or the Ottawa Senators,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I can’t control the Rangers, whether they finish with 97 points or 118 points. It’s out of my control. I’m just concerned about the points at stake. Trust me. Three weeks from now, someone will tell us where we’re going or who we’re going to visit.”

MORE SHUTOUT: Turns out, Ilya Bryzgalov’s brilliant shutout streak – which ended at 249:43 on Thursday night – is the second-longest by any goaltender in the NHL expansion era (since 1967). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is second to only Brian Boucher’s 332:01, posted in 2003-04 with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Ottawa’s Alex Connell holds the all-time league record at 461:29, set way back in 1927-28. Safe to say that’s a record that may never be broken.

PRACTICE TODAY: The Flyers are holding their Friday afternoon practice at Boston University’s beautiful Agganis Arena.

ISLANDERS OUTLOOK: The Flyers (4-1-1) wrapped up another season series victory over the Islanders on Thursday night. It was actually their worst season against the Islanders since 2006-07. They entered this season 24-2-0 against New York over the last 4 seasons.

My thinking is that those points are going to get tougher and tougher to earn next year. I believe the Islanders are finally starting to come into their own. John Tavares posted his first 30-goal season this year. Matt Moulson has now scored 30 goals in 3 straight seasons. Michael Grabner is a burgeoning young star. Kyle Okposo and Nino Niederreiter are still growing.

All of those players are locked up long-term.

It will be an interesting summer for the Islanders. No team has more salary cap space to make moves. But no team has a harder time convincing players to join their organization. Their building is terrible. Cost of living is high. The fan-base is weak. And the team has been a perennial loser.

Garth Snow has 4 unrestricted free agents on defense to build a new core. He is trying to re-sign Evgeni Nabokov. And P.A. Parenteau is due a big raise.

Still, if Snow can bring in a few quality pieces, I actually (gasp) see the Islanders as a playoff team. They’re young and they need to be taught how to win. But they have things like talent and speed that can’t be taught.

By the way: Jaromir Jagr now has 145 points (60 goals, 85 assists) in 97 career games against the Islanders, more than any other team he’s played against in the NHL.

SLAP SHOTS: Zac Rinaldo’s first period goal was his first in 44 games. Rinaldo had 6 attempts at the net, second only to Jaromir Jagr’s 7 … The Flyers had zero power plays on Thursday night for the second time in 4 games. Prior to March 10, the Flyers had not gone without a power play in over 4 years (Feb. 21, 2008) … Sean Couturier led all forwards in ice time (19:33) and won a key defensive zone faceoff in the third period which helped seal the win.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers