Oh yeah. The Rangers.
The last few days were pleasant for the Flyers and entertaining for their fans. Everyone seemed excited about the public humiliation Pittsburgh suffered on national television over the weekend. The Flyers throttled the Penguins and bruised their egos (and faces). People around here loved it. The mere thought of the thrashing warmed them like a Snuggie fashioned from victory and blood.
So, yeah, that was fun. Then the Rangers came to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. That was less fun. Leave it to New York to spoil a good time.
It was almost as though everyone was so busy reveling in the Penguins afterglow -- and the prospect of facing Pittsburgh in the playoffs -- that they nearly forgot about the dastardly Rangers coming to town. Wayne Simmonds swore that wasnt the case. Before the puck dropped, Simmonds said the Flyers wouldnt have much trouble shifting their focus from the Penguins to the Rangers.
Obviously we have a huge rivalry against the Rangers as well, Simmonds said on Daily News Live. I think every game weve played, there have been probably three or four fights in them. Its definitely not a time to have a letdown against any elite team. We obviously want to keep picking up points in the standings. Weve got to get the win.
About all that: They didnt get the win. They didnt pick up points in the standings. They did have a letdown against an elite team. Otherwise, the evening was swell.
Rangers 5, Flyers 3 (see story).
In the first few minutes of the game, the hardcore hockey heads on Twitter were pleased with the Flyers effort. There were all sorts of flattering words thrown around.
Then Marian Gaborik camped out behind Ilya Bryzgalov long enough to find Ryan McDonagh, who scored the Rangers first goal of the evening with flair and considerable ease. Then Brian Boyle put one into the net five minutes later. Then Artem Anisimov beat Bryzgalov with just two minutes remaining in the first period. And then there were a lot of thens on Tuesday when the game looked like it couldnt get any uglier for the Flyers, Ryan Callahan scored, too. Callahans goal came only 36 seconds after Anisimovs. There was barely enough time in between for the PA announcer to update the crowd.
And that was just the first period. The Rangers -- who clinched the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference with the victory -- added another goal in the second period. After a while, it all blurred together.
The Flyers are now 0-6 against the Rangers this season and 0-7-1 versus New York in their last eight games. It has been four decades since they went that long without beating the Rangers. (The Flyers had a 13-game drought against New York that lasted from November of 1971 through December of 1973.) With the exception of the Winter Classic, none of the games this year have been all that close. The Flyers have lost three games to New York by two goals this season, and two other games by three goals.
That is the grim reality, and it has quite a bit to do with Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 37 saves on Tuesday. The Flyers had 16 more shots than the Rangers, and they scored three goals, but it never felt like Lundqvist was in danger of completely cracking. It was a little like watching a bunch of frustrated burglars try to open an industrial-strength safe with a stethoscope.
In the last few days, and in anticipation of potentially playing Pittsburgh in the playoffs, much has been made about the way the Flyers have smacked the Penguins. The Flyers have beaten Pittsburgh four out of five times this year, and they are 5-0-0 against the Penguins at the Consol Energy Center. Those are the facts, and they are trumpeted with pride by local hockey heads who would like to see the Flyers -- who will appear in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season and the 16th time in last 17 years -- advance past the first round. That is understandable.
But if it is right for the fans and the media to applaud the Flyers for dominating the Penguins recently, the same logic would dictate that people sweat a little -- or a lot -- when the Rangers enter the discussion. After all, the Blueshirts have left the orange and black looking black and blue this year.
Winning six games against this team, I cant really believe it, Lundqvist said. Theyre a great team. Weve been working really hard in each game, but things have worked out for us every time.
Lundqvist was profiled in a recent episode of HBOs "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel." In the story, theres footage from the Winter Classic of Claude Giroux asking Lundqvist to let him score a goal. Just one. Giroux was kidding, of course. But with the way things have gone between the two teams, maybe begging wasnt such a bad idea.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org