The good news for Flyers after loss to Rangers: No shootouts in playoffs

Wojtek Wolski beats Sergei Bobrovsky for game-winning shootout goal.
Wojtek Wolski beats Sergei Bobrovsky for game-winning shootout goal.
Posted: April 04, 2011

IT'S GETTING better. Really.

Inspired by the worst beating they had taken in years and pushed by the surging Capitals, the Flyers' slog toward the postseason continued with an upbeat, 3-2 shootout loss to the visiting Rangers yesterday.

"I don't think we've done a good job closing out games," veteran winger Scott Hartnell said. "Playing hard for 60 minutes, when you take shifts off, or half a period off, you're going to get in trouble. That's why we're not getting two points every night."

Their effort was not consistent, but, with three games to play in the regular season, it was, they said, better. Well, some of them said that.

They got another fine game from James van Riemsdyk and a boost from castoff winger Nikolay Zherdev. They got a typically strong showing from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who, like the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, sparkled through 65 minutes of play with 32 saves.

But the Flyers also continued to be toothless on their power play, 0-for-4 yesterday, 0-for-10 in their last three games and 2-for-29 in their last 11. Compared to the dominant editions they produced in the first 50 games, they sometimes seemed downright somnambulant.

"It seems like we have one good shift, then two off," Hartnell said. "We could've thrown a big dagger in the Rangers' playoff hopes if we would've won. They might possibly be our first-round opponent. That gives them confidence."

Significantly, Hartnell's linemate, Ville Leino, was conspicuously absent as the contest distilled itself in the third period.

"We just shortened the bench in the third period," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, tersely. "Tightened things up."

Certainly, in contrast to what happened a month ago, the Flyers tightened things up in general. The Rangers flogged them, 7-0, at Madison Square Garden on March 6. As they were then, yesterday's Rangers were playing for their playoff lives. Just like last year at this time, when, also at the Wells Fargo Center, the Rangers lost a shootout in the season finale and forfeited the last playoff slot to the Flyers.

The Flyers are not playing desperately. They are playing for home-ice advantage. After slipping into second place Saturday as the surging Capitals won, the Flyers' point knotted them atop the Eastern Conference at 103 points. The Flyers hold the tiebreaker.

The Flyers are not fretting. They had crucial personnel issues. They played without All-Star center Danny Briere, who is second on the team with 32 goals and is tied for third with 63 points. Briere missed the game with lower-body soreness, according to Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, who indicated that Briere likely would not play tomorrow night at Ottawa.

Neither will center Blair Betts, who missed the third period with a lower-body injury suffered in the second period. Both Briere and Betts might be back Friday in Buffalo, but, said Holmgren, he's not going to push anyone to return.

"The idea is to get in [the playoffs]. We're in," Holmgren said. "Obviously, we still want to finish as high as possible, but I don't think you can be shortsighted and push when guys are banged up."

Holmgren issued assurances that both will return for the playoffs, which begin next week. They should be joined by cornerstone defenseman Chris Pronger, whose injured right hand should be sound by then. After a setback last week, Pronger will resume skating this week.

Maybe by then the Flyers will play smart and hard for the entire game, every game.

"I liked our competitive level," Holmgren said. "I think, with this stretch here, that's going to ramp back up to where we need to be going into the playoffs."

Laviolette, his boss and his oldest player, Sean O'Donnell, seem oddly encouraged during the team's 3-3-4 stretch run. They generally were unperturbed by the result, encouraged by the effort and graded the game on a curve. The Rangers, with 89 points, occupy the final playoff spot in the East. They are a point behind Buffalo and two points ahead of Carolina, which fell to the Sabres in overtime last night.

"We were playing a team with its back against the wall," Laviolette said.

Of course, when enigmas like van Riemsdyk and Zherdev play with zest, the game's sages tend to get excited.

Van Riemsdyk's 21st was his second goal in as many games, a result of more assertive play over the past 2 weeks - a happy development for a blue-chip, second-year player. Yesterday, he poked in a rebound of O'Donnell's shot with 7:35 to play in the first that started the scoring.

"He has been really good. When his feet are moving, being physical, and driving the way he does, good things are happening offensively for him. That's nice to see at this time of the year," Laviolette said. "The playoffs are approaching fast, we can really use James' speed, intensity and offense in a lot of different situations. We are happy to see that."

Zherdev set up van Riemsdyk's goal with pure hustle behind the net. Then, just under 5 minutes into the third period, Zherdev registered his second point in as many games after sitting the previous 12.

In a four-on-four situation, Zherdev rushed down the right wing and pushed Claude Giroux's pass past Lundqvist. Actually, the Flyers essentially had an extra man on the ice, since Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was slowly skating off the ice, having absorbed a shot with his thigh. His replacement could not enter the play fast enough.

"I saw that," Zherdev said. "That [goal] was important for me."

It came late in the game - proof that, even as he sat, Zherdev remained in shape.

"I thought that was really impressive," O'Donnell said.

Zherdev hadn't scored since Jan. 23 in Chicago. In the interim the Flyers waived him, lectured him, retained him as a reserve and, yesterday, got the tying goal from him.

"He's really worked hard and I'm proud of him," Holmgren said. "We knew at some point that he'd come up as a pretty nice option for us to get in there."

In between those goals, the Rangers made hay.

They scored on a five-on-three power play with 0.7 seconds left in the first period, a blast from Bryan McCabe over Bobrovsky's left shoulder that tied it at 1.

They carried play in the second and were rewarded on the heels of a laughably ineffective Flyers power play. 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 Marc Staal, whose pass Ruslan Fedotenko deposited for a 2-1 lead with 6:30 left in the second.

"We got a little bit sleepy in the second," Laviolette admitted.

They seemed groggy more often than that, but that might have just been old patterns projecting themselves.

"I don't think guys are consciously taking shifts off," O'Donnell said. "I think you could say that in March. We're getting closer to playing the style we want."

They're generally playing well enough to keep things tight, which, come next week, might skew more in their favor.

After Lundqvist stopped Zherdev and after Giroux failed to get a shot off, and after Erik Christensen and Wojtek Wolski both beat Bobrovsky with forehand snappers, the Flyers dropped to 3-7 in shootouts this season, 1-4 in their last five.

"There's no shootouts in the playoffs," O'Donnell said. "Thank God."

Slap shots

Yesterday was the first game this season Danny Briere missed due to injury; he had missed three others because of a suspension . . . Jeff Carter initially centered Briere's potent line, with wingers Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino . . .  Defenseman Danny Syvret, called up Saturday, played in place of Nick Boynton . . . Sean O'Donnell fought 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 Ruslan Fedotenko, whom Coburn had just crushed along the boards and left crumpled on the ice . . . Vinny Prospal absorbed jarring hits from Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros.

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