Saturday, April 10, 2010

Flyers Create Must Win Situation After Loss at the Hands of the Rangers

By: Tim Brennan

The scenario was simple for both teams: the Flyers needed a win to get into the playoffs and the Rangers needed a win to stay alive and keep the Flyers at bay for a final matchup on Sunday afternoon where they could clinch a spot by winning in Philadelphia. The Flyers were coming off of two monumental victories against the Red Wings and Maple Leafs before heading to Madison Square Garden while the Rangers picked up a win against the Maple Leafs after getting shelled against the Sabres where star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was pulled after letting in 3 goals on 16 shots. This would create a playoff like atmosphere as both teams were willing to do whatever it takes to get into the playoffs.

For the Flyers, a win in New York sounded reasonable enough because of their long time success at MSG so it was important to come out hitting and scoring to set the tempo. They did just that when Flyers captain Mike Richards intercepted Marc Staal's breakout pass and streaked in on net, firing a shot over Lundqvist's right shoulder only 40 seconds in. This is something the Flyers haven't done a whole lot of this season so getting on the board early was a good sign for the team's possible success. Almost immediately after the Richards tally, the Rangers came alive and created odd man rushes over and over that frustrated the Flyers.

As a result of the Rangers strong offensive play, Dan Carcillo took a dumb penalty on the back check when he clipped Brandon Prust in the face, leading to a double minor for high sticking as Prust was cut on the play. With the Flyers scrambling to get the puck out of the zone on the penalty kill, the Rangers hopped on the opportunity as Chris Drury scored the equalizer off a no look pass from Eric Christensen. Then the unthinkable happened...right off of a faceoff halfway through the first period, Brandon Prust passed the puck to Jody Shelley who wasn't covered and put the puck past Boucher to give the Rangers the advantage for a 2-1 score.

If the Flyers thought they were going to mow over the Rangers in the second period, their assumptions were ill-advised. The Rangers added to their lead when Brandon Dubinsky scored his 20th of the season. Marian Gaborik utilized his speed to the best of his ability, flying around Flyers defenseman Matt Carle to the outside and sent the puck back to Dubinsky who fired it into the empty side where Boucher had left anticipating a wrap around. However Danny Briere countered less than two minutes later when he wired a slapshot over the glove hand of Lundqvist. Keeping with the Flyers theme, Mike Richards tied things up on a breakaway which looked to hit Lundqvist first, then bouncing off of Michal Rozsival's skate and into the net. The Flyers kept the intensity up but would succumb to the Rangers speed on the game winning tally from the team's best player Marian Gaborik. The Rangers sent the puck out of the zone where Chris Pronger went to sent the puck to Matt Carle but fumbled it instead where Gaborik blazed past and took a shot that deflected off of Carle's stick and into the roof of the net.

The final period got progressively chippy as skirmishes broke out after every whistle, bodies flying everywhere, hits and jabs after the whistle and plenty of verbal abuse between the players. The Flyers gave the Blueshirts an opportunity to increase their lead when Scott Hartnell took a foolish penalty by cross-checking Michael Del Zotto in the chest. Although the Rangers didn't score on the powerplay, they did stick up for a teammate when once again Scott Hartnell got involved and demolished Rangers rookie Artem Anisimov near the boards. As a result of the hit, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi challenged Hartnell and ultimately won the fight. Even after this the Flyers still had a chance to tie when Aaron Voros threw a blindside hit on Lukas Krajicek, leading to a powerplay chance with 4 minutes left. The Rangers penalty kill neutralized any threat from the Flyers and claimed the victory 4-3.

From a Rangers standpoint, this was one of the best efforts presented this season and it shows how this team is hungry to launch themselves into the playoffs instead of bowing out gracefully. The strong play of the Rangers fourth line consisting of Artem Anisimov, Brandon Prust and Jody Shelley created a challenge for the Flyers defense and ultimately the Rangers got the upperhand on Shelley's goal in the first period. Another factor in this game was Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 24 shots with 10 of those coming in the third period. Lundqvist kept the Rangers in the game when the going got tough and the Flyers peppered the net, with a game saving stop on James van Riemsdyk's in close opportunity which Lundqvist blocked with his toe. The intensity and urgency from the Rangers was obviously there and contributed to their victory.

Now from a Flyers perspective there are a few things that can be taken out of this game. For one, the Flyers got their leading goal scorer back when Jeff Carter suited up for the first time after missing eight games with a fractured bone in his left foot. Although he didn't get nearly as much ice time as he usually does, Carter still helped out and made an impact on the game, firing off 3 shots. The Flyers captain Mike Richards picked up his game for such a pivotal moment, adding two goals and playing with a fire and intensity that hasn't been there for most of the season. With Richards contributing, this will help propel the rest of the team as well as add to his confidence after getting just one assist in the eight game span that Jeff Carter was out. The team also play with a heart and desire for such a big game and although they came up short, they never quit.

If there were two problems with this game, it had to be Chris Pronger and Brian Boucher. The Flyers acquired Chris Pronger to help out what was deemed an "inexperienced" blueline and was brought in to provide leadership and an All-Star caliber game that Flyers fans hadn't seen since Mark Howe. If Friday's game was an example of a strong game by Pronger, then the Flyers are in trouble. Pronger was on the ice for 3 of the Rangers 4 goals, with his turnover on the game winning goal the biggest example of poor play on his part. The other two goals he was out for were a result of his lack of coverage and picking a player to defend. His numbers may say something different but Pronger has been one of the worst defenders on the team this season, aside from Ryan Parent. Along with Pronger's horrendous play, Flyers goalie Brian Boucher was almost as bad, allowing the Rangers to get second chance opportunities off of huge rebounds given up by "Boosh". Not only was he out of position on three of the Rangers' goals but he also provided quite a gaffe that would have popped the Flyers balloon of momentum. While trying to pass the puck behind the net, Boucher rushed the pass that ended up going towards the net, almost going in, and went off the post right to Jody Shelley, who almost scored again after going 62 games without scoring a goal. Boucher was able to slide back to make the save but the terrible play from the goaltending position hasn't helped the Flyers chances to get a playoff spot.

With this in mind, the Flyers and Rangers face off at the Wachovia Center at 3pm on Sunday afternoon so look for both teams to fight and battle until the death to reach the playoffs. The home ice advantage will help the Flyers mainly because of the rambunctious crowd.

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