Flyers better avoid Rangers in playoffs

ASSOCIATED PRESS Flyers goalie Steve Mason and teammate Brayden Schenn react to Derek Dorsett's first-period goal.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Flyers goalie Steve Mason and teammate Brayden Schenn react to Derek Dorsett's first-period goal.
Posted: March 28, 2014

NEW YORK - If this was a preview of what is to come, the Flyers had better root for something else to happen. Which isn't to say that the Flyers can't beat the Rangers in a playoff series. It is simply to say that they might want somebody else out of the chute, somebody else like the Penguins.

General manager Paul Holmgren said, "If somebody said, 'You're going to play the Rangers,' I'd say that's great," because that would mean the Flyers had made the playoffs. The certainty there would be comforting. Still, if the choice is between a struggling Penguins team that the Flyers just beat twice in the same weekend and a Rangers team that neutered them last night at Madison Square Garden, the Flyers' unstated preference would seem to be getting more and more clear.

Because that was the word: neutered. The Flyers just looked listless for long stretches of the 3-1 defeat. The top line was very quiet all night, until Jakub Voracek scored during a four-on-four situation near the end. The traffic around the net was sporadic at best, and when it was there, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was very good - which is what he usually is.

The Flyers have been a much better counterattacking team this season under coach Craig Berube, and much more conscious of retaining possession of the puck as they enter the offensive zone. But as they fought their way through the pickets set up by the Rangers, they often gave up that possession - and when you don't have the puck, you just look . . . blah.

The Rangers were not dominant, though. They got two of their goals from the fourth line, including the third one that just sneaked through Flyers goaltender Steve Mason. But they were better than the Flyers overall. Their pressure on the puck forced more mishandling of the puck by the Flyers than we have seen in a while. The Flyers looked neither crisp nor fast.

When they play the Penguins, the Flyers always seem to look as if they have been shot out of a cannon. This was so different.

"You look at the intensity we brought in games against Pittsburgh," Mason said. "It wasn't there tonight."

Or, as Berube said, plainly, "Not enough fire tonight."

And then there was the scariest stretch of the game, in the middle of the second period, when defenseman Kimmo Timonen skated to the bench after blocking a shot and then disappeared from the bench. He missed a couple of shifts, returned to the bench, skated lazy circles during a stoppage to try to work out the kinks, and then returned to the game.

It isn't as if Timonen is a super-elite player anymore - but he is a very good player on most nights, and he plays on the Flyers' top defensive pair along with Braydon Coburn, and the Flyers cannot really afford to lose a player from their top pair if their hope is to make a run this spring.

A playoff series against the Rangers - especially given that the Flyers haven't won a game at the Garden in forever - would be steeped in bitter history, and that is true enough. A playoff series in 1974 is probably where the real hatred was born. In Game 3 of the series, the Rangers' Dale Rolfe shot the puck and it hit Flyers defenseman Barry Ashbee in the eye, ending his career. Despite it being a complete accident, the Flyers' Dave Schultz pummeled Rolfe in Game 7 of the series as his Rangers teammates stood there and watched him get beat up.

So that is where it started. And if Flyers fans hate the Penguins more these days, it really doesn't need to be pointed out that they have hated the Rangers for longer. Still, it's funny. Maybe it was the style of play, or the acoustics, but the Garden seemed kind of dead. When it is Flyers-Penguins, neither Wells Fargo Center nor Consol Energy Center ever seem dead.

Before the game, Holmgren said, "You've got to walk before you can run. 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."

All true. And any playoff series would be amped well beyond what happened last night. And the Flyers would not admit to any issues with the Rangers. As Wayne Simmonds said, "We just have to take care of our business and see where it takes us." Still, this game could not have left the Flyers anything but uneasy.


On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: philly.com/DNL

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