NEW YORK — No matter how much the New York Rangers are struggling, there is something about them that brings out the worst in the Flyers.
It happened again Tuesday night as the Rangers trounced the Flyers at Madison Square Garden, 5-1, and snapped their three-game losing streak.
The Flyers’ four-game winning streak ended, and they missed a chance to slip ahead of the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Left winger Rick Nash, who hadn’t scored since Dec. 15, had a pair of goals to lead the rout.
“I just thought in the first half of the game, in all the areas that mattered, they were the quicker and hungrier team,” coach Dave Hakstol said.
The Flyers’ defense was sloppy. They allowed too many odd-man rushes, and goalie Brian Elliott (five goals on 21 shots) had one of his rare off nights before being replaced by Michal Neuvirth at the start of the third period.
“I’m going to go back to work and try to feel good about my game,” said Elliott, whose teammate didn’t give him much support Tuesday. “I mean, that’s not where I wanted to be tonight. I didn’t really give ourselves a chance to win, and I have to own a lot of that.”
“We just made too many mistakes that cost us,” said right Jake Voracek, whose turnover led to one Rangers goal. “I think four goals out of five came after our mistakes.”
The Flyers have lost seven of their last eight meetings with the Rangers. At Madison Square Garden, they are 2-13 since March 6, 2011.
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist (25 saves) is 12-1 in his last 13 home games against the Flyers. Lundqvist, now 20-11-4 this season, became the first goalie in NHL history to win 20 or more games in each of his first 13 seasons.
His teammates made it easy on him, erupting for five goals over the first two periods — after scoring two or fewer in eight of their previous 10 games.
“We’ve played really good hockey, and you’re going to have nights where, quite frankly, you’re not very good,” Hakstol said. “You can’t have many of them. Tonight, we didn’t have our legs. We weren’t engaged in this game enough for a big game, for sure. We have to flip the page pretty quick and go back to it Thursday night at home” against Toronto.
Michael Grabner stripped the puck from Voracek and beat Elliott from the left circle to give the Rangers a 4-1 lead midway through the second period. About seven minutes later, Nash finished a two-on-one by scoring from the right circle to make it 5-1.
The Rangers erased an early 1-0 deficit by scoring three first-period goals — two on breakaways, including a shorthanded tally — to take a 3-1 lead after the opening 20 minutes. The Flyers had a territorial advantage for most of the period, but two defensive breakdowns were converted into New York goals.
After Jordan Weal lost the puck in the offensive end while the Flyers were on a power play, Peter Holland fed Paul Carey and he scored on a shorthanded breakaway to put the Rangers ahead, 3-1, with 9.4 seconds left in the first. Carey got behind defenseman Brandon Manning, who was recently put on the second power-play unit because Hakstol said he wanted someone with a “shooter’s mentality.”
“Any time you score shorthanded, it changes the momentum,” said Nash after his team’s first shorthanded score of the season — and the seventh allowed by the Flyers.
It was Nash who scored on a breakaway — his first goal in the last 13 games — to knot the score at 1-1 with 13:30 to go in the first. Nash got between Manning and Radko Gudas and went in alone and beat Elliott for his 10th goal.
J.T. Miller’s power-play goal, a deflection of Ryan McDonagh’s shot, gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead with 3:10 remaining in the first. Miller scored shortly after Lundqvist made a great save to deny Claude Giroux from finishing a two-on-one shorthanded opportunity.
“That could have been a turning point in our favor if we had scored there,” Hakstol said
Earlier, the Flyers struck first as Weal deflected Gudas’ wide shot past Lundqvist for his third goal in the last six games, briefly quieting the crowd and giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead just 2:06 into the game.
It would be their last hurrah.