By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—The bane has been lurking, haunting and tormenting. That’s what it seems like the New York Rangers are to the Flyers, a swarm of gnats that won’t go away. Hovering. Annoying. Omnipresent.
All season long, reaching back to last year, New York has been the one team that the Flyers can’t solve. It’s been over a year since the Flyers beat New York, a 4-2 victory on February 20, 2011—in New York. The last time the Flyers beat the Rangers at home travels back to December 18, 2010, a 4-1 victory.
At the rate the Flyers are going against New York recently, it may just as well be a millennium. With the season just a few games away from concluding, the New York Rangers visited the Well Fargo Center Tuesday night to give the Flyers another glimpse why they’re the best team in the NHL—and a favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Though the Flyers started fact, putting a pile of pressure on Rangers’ male-model goalie Henrik Lundqvist and the New York defense, it was New York—once again—that came away with a 5-3 victory and cooling off Flyers’ goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Flyers have now lost eight-straight games to the Rangers and were wiped clean this season going 0-6 against New York, getting outscored 24-11 in the process. At the core of the streak is Lundqvist, who stymied the Flyers every possible way, making saves through screens, lunging for pucks that appeared out of his grasp further frustrating the Flyers’ vocal, agitated fan base. Lundqvist finished with 37 saves—and the Rangers rode a great start, with a 4-0 first-period outburst that made it look easy. Maybe too easy.
“You won’t win a lot of hockey games going down by that many goals,” Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette said. “The first couple of shifts were pretty good, and then we were a little loose in our own end. After the first period, we played two really good periods of hockey. But there were things we could have done better.”
Bad starts have been an issue. It’s something Laviolette has to be concerned about with the playoffs approaching.
“We’ll wait and see, but we certainly hope [the bad starts will stop],” Laviolette said. “We’re really messing with fire here. We had some breakdowns that didn’t go our way. I stated earlier the playoffs are a different beast.”
The Rangers certainly viewed this game as a playoff tune-up.
“It definitely felt like a playoff game,” said Lundqvist, who had an ice pack draped over his right forearm and said he couldn’t completely close his right fist. “The second and third periods were great tests for us. Right now, this feels great. It’s a great sign of what we’ve been doing all year, absolutely. We’ve been consistent in the way we’ve been playing and we have two more games to work.”
As for Bryzgalov, the Rangers’ Ryan McDonough, Brian Boyle, Artem Anismov and Ryan Callahan combined to swipe away any semblance of confidence he built in March, when he went 10-2-1 in establishing a handful of team records. Instead, the Rangers had him resort back to the skittish, unsteady February Bryzgalov that puts his hands on his knees, looks down and shakes his head after each goal he surrenders. You can almost see Bryzgalov’s confidence leak out with each goal.
The Rangers showed great puck movement. Reached loose pucks faster than the Flyers, who appeared to slog along as if skating in mud, and toyed with a Flyers’ defense that was in disarray. The Rangers were also 3-for-6 on the powerplay while the Flyers were an inept 1-for-8.
The only solace Flyers’ fans had in the first period was when an obnoxious Rangers’ fan was tossed from the arena. Otherwise, a hail storm of boos descended on the Flyers as a solemn row of dejected, down-looking helmets trudged off the ice after the first 20 minutes.
Down 4-0, with nothing going right, Jakub Voracek gave the Flyers a minor spark. He crashed the net with 7:05 left in the second period and found a rare gap in Lundqvist’s seemingly impenetrable veneer.
Marian Gaborik added some more cushion to the Rangers’ edge with a goal in the final minute of the second period, once again giving New York a four-goal lead. But the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds answered with his 28th goal of the season to make it look somewhat respectable in the last second of the second period. Simmonds left the ice about seven minutes into the third period when he was hit the face with a shot—again, for the second time in a span of four days. Simmonds did return.
Andreas Lilja scored his first goal as a Flyer to add some cosmetics to the final score. But make no mistake, the New York Rangers were loading up for the postseason, and Tuesday at the Well Fargo Center was their launching point. The Flyers needed a jumpstart to get going, a luxury they won’t have in the playoffs.