Flyers must solve the riddle of the Garden

Flyers goalie Steve Mason reaches for one of his 26 saves against the Rangers on Wednesday.
Flyers goalie Steve Mason reaches for one of his 26 saves against the Rangers on Wednesday. (ANTHONY GRUPPUSO / USA TODAY)
Posted: March 28, 2014

NEW YORK - Of all the Philadelphia-New York rivalries, this one between the Flyers and Rangers is the most colorful, the most contentious, and the one that appears headed for another crusty playoff chapter.

"I would take that if somebody said that today, because then you know you're in the playoffs," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said before the two rivals continued jockeying for playoff position Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. "If somebody said,'You're going to play the Rangers,' I'd say that's great."

After missing the playoffs last season and starting 1-7 this season, a first-round playoff matchup with the Rangers would represent a step in the right direction for the Flyers, but home-ice advantage might be required if they want more than a one-and-done playoff scenario.

Here's why: Since this historic building started undergoing a $1 billion face-lift three years ago, the Flyers have been unable to win here and have rarely even scored. It was a streak that stretched to eight games Wednesday, with a 3-1 loss to the Rangers, who won their fifth straight and moved three points ahead of the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division standings.

The Flyers have two games in hand, but if the season ended right now, they'd find themselves back in this building for a first-round series. And if they cannot solve the mystery of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, it could be a quick exit. Lundqvist had 30 saves Wednesday night.

New York has outscored the Flyers, 31-9, in the eight-game home streak.

"For the most part, I think we've had some competitive games here over the years," Holmgren said.

Flyers coach Craig Berube thought he saw something otherwise on this night, especially after the first period.

"The first period, I thought we were pretty good, and I thought we played a pretty smart period," he said after his team dropped its second straight game. "I thought we got outworked in the second, especially on the walls. We were outworked on the walls. Not enough guys gave what we needed to win the hockey game."

The Flyers did carry the play in the opening period, registering a 15-6 advantage in shots, but one mistake in their own zone and the brilliance of Lundqvist allowed the Rangers to take a 1-0 lead into the intermission.

New York scored when a backhanded pass from goalie Steve Mason got by defenseman Kimmo Timonen along the boards. Brian Boyle pounced on the error and quickly sent the puck in front of the net, where Derek Dorsett tipped it in.

From that point on, Berube saw a flat team, which makes little sense with so much on the line so late in the season.

"They checked well, they were on us, and we just kind of let it happen," he said. "Not enough fight tonight. We didn't have our best players playing tonight."

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh put the Rangers up, 2-0, in the second period, and Dominic Moore sealed the Flyers' fate with a soft goal that trickled between Mason's pads in the third. The Flyers, meanwhile, shot blanks at Lundqvist.

There's still a decent chance they will get a few more shots at him in the postseason, but Holmgren knows that's not assured, either.

"You've got to walk before you can run," the general manager said. "We have lots of work to do to get ourselves into the playoffs. The Rangers, historically, have been one of our archrivals. That hasn't changed since I've been around. So it's a big game any time you play the Rangers."

The Flyers and Rangers have had some mesmerizing moments, with the feud extending beyond the ice.

They battled in court for Eric Lindros' rights in 1992 (the Flyers won that one, although Lindros later played for the Rangers) and they've met in the playoffs nine times. (The Flyers have won five of the meetings.) To truly appreciate how much crossover the two franchises have had through the years, we take you back to an October night in 1987 at Madison Square Garden. Tomas Sandstrom had been getting under the Flyers' skin for a few years when Dave Brown took him out with a vicious cross-check for which he'd receive a 15-game suspension.

"I don't even blame Brown," Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck said that night. "He's only doing a job assigned to him by Mike Keenan. [Keenan] pats him on the head, says, 'Good job tonight. We'll put you in a cage and let you ride home under the team bus.' "

Keenan, of course, is now beloved by Rangers fans for coaching them to the Stanley Cup title in 1994. Vanbiesbrouck spent two seasons with the Flyers later in his career, and Brown worked as a Rangers scout for eight years before rejoining the Flyers eight years ago.

A 10th playoff chapter in this rivalry could be just a few weeks away, but it's not going to have a happy ending for the Flyers if they can't figure out how to beat the Rangers at the Garden.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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