Can Flyers spoil Rangers' block party?

Flyers goalie Steve Mason makes one of his three saves in Game 3. He's expected to get the start in Game 4 on Friday.
Flyers goalie Steve Mason makes one of his three saves in Game 3. He's expected to get the start in Game 4 on Friday. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 25, 2014

Considering they had just lost a pivotal game by three goals and are now one more stinker from an untenable position in their playoff against New York, the Flyers were remarkably pleased with themselves after an abbreviated practice Wednesday.

"We played a strong game," coach Craig Berube said. "Saying that, we didn't do enough. We didn't score goals."

Unfortunately for the Flyers, that is still how they decide the outcomes of these games, and merely possessing the puck, which they did much better in Game 3, is only part of the equation. Getting that puck past the packed-in, diving New York defense is another matter entirely.

The Flyers like their chances, though, and reference their ability to operate in a comeback mode all season. After three games against the Rangers in which they have just one goal (an empty-netter) and 16 total shots in the third periods, it's hard to tell whether this is a team capable of late lightning in this matchup.

A bigger issue than generating that comeback offense might be their habit of requiring it. Ray Emery, who the Flyers were desperately hoping would become the hot hand every team prays for during the postseason, made a couple of mistakes Tuesday that ended up in the back of the net. He'll skate to the bench now, and starter Steve Mason, apparently recovered from his whatever-it-was, will be the goaltender Friday.

"I'll make that decision when the time comes," Berube said.

The decision was made for him when the Flyers fell behind by 2-0 for the second straight game. They played well enough to salvage a win the first time, but not nearly enough Tuesday. Mason returns to as tough a situation as a goaltender can face. He knows he has to be nearly perfect, because there isn't much margin for error against the Rangers.

"I'm not in a rhythm right now because I haven't gotten a start," Mason said, "but I just have to make sure that during the practices and the pregame skate I feel good."

If the Flyers could give him a lead to work with, that would help. To the midpoints of the first three games, which represents 90 minutes of hockey, the Flyers have held the lead for only 3 minutes, 25 seconds. That's a credit to New York's defense, but it also says something about the Flyers' lack of creativity on offense.

The Rangers are able to pull off the neat trick of clogging up their defensive end without screening their goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist.

On Tuesday, they did it by going to the ice to block shots and keep them from reaching Lundqvist. New York blocked 28 shots, an incredibly high number, and most of those that did get through were easily stopped by the goalie. Rebound opportunities, which are the best kind in hockey, weren't there for the Flyers.

"When they do go down, we've got to pump-fake and step around them," Wayne Simmonds said.

That's a good strategy for a quick team, but it's not the strength of the Flyers. Their strength is a stubborn determination to keep muscling the puck toward the net by the straightest line possible. It is also the most predictable line, and that was a problem, especially on the power play.

The Flyers got just four shots out of five power-play opportunities Tuesday, which is really hard to do. They managed it by moving the puck tentatively around the perimeter, making the obvious pass, rarely reversing the puck quickly or one-timing a shot rather than patting the puck while waiting for something magical to happen near the goal. This sucks the life from the game and does not amuse the fans. Maybe that's part of the reason the Flyers were first in the league in road power-play percentage this season and 25th at home.

Berube didn't say his team squeezes the sticks too tightly in those situations, but the numbers do plenty of talking. He did say the puck movement was too slow and too predictable.

Mason could lift the gloom considerably if he tosses a shutout, but that's asking a lot from a guy playing his first game in two weeks and coming back from one of those injuries that can't be seen. The Rangers are getting their jump and their life from the line built around Martin St. Louis, and they figure to jump on Mason early, if possible.

Two-goal leads don't always hold up, but it's a recommended strategy. The Flyers should consider it for a change.

"Sometimes, you've got to will the puck in the net," Simmonds said.

Worth a try. Shooting it certainly isn't working.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

www.inquirer.com/postpatterns

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