Veteran Hal Gill falls flat in playoff nod

Veteran Hal Gill falls flat in playoff nod

April 27, 2014, 5:15 pm
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Flyers defenseman Hal Gill is checked by Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello in New York's Game 5 win. (USA Today Images)


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Flyers vs. Rangers
(Rangers lead series, 3-2)

Game 1 at NYR: 4-1 Rangers
Game 2 at NYR: 4-2 Flyers
Game 3 at PHI: 4-1 Rangers
Game 4 at PHI: 2-1 Flyers
Game 5 at NYR: 4-2 Rangers
Game 6 at PHI: Tues., April 29, 7:30 p.m., CSN
*Game 7 at NYR: Wed., April 30, TBA, CSN

*If necessary

NEW YORK -- Hal Gill was just as frustrated as the Flyers fans watching him on television from home.

Playing in place of injured defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, Gill struggled mightily in the Flyers’ 4-2 Game 5 loss Sunday at Madison Square Garden that gave the New York Rangers a 3-2 series lead (see story).

The 39-year-old veteran was guilty of a number of noticeable gaffes that contributed to two -- and nearly three -- Rangers goals (see 10 observations). It was not the performance he had been hoping for.

“When you’re in the playoffs and you make a little mistake, it costs you,” Gill said. “That’s what I like about it, and sometimes that’s what sucks about it.”

Gill played in just six regular-season games with the Flyers this year, which included a stretch of 44 games that he sat on the sidelines as a healthy scratch. He returned to the lineup Sunday only because of Grossmann’s lower-body injury, and had played a paltry two games in all of 2014 before it.

The rust showed.

“It’s a fast game,” Gill said. “It’s a hard game. You make a little mistake, and they’re good players out there and they’ll make you pay for it.”

Gill was on the ice for the second-period Rangers goal that was waved off only because of a premature whistle from referee Justin St. Pierre. He and Luke Schenn had allowed the Rangers to trounce all over goalie Steve Mason in the play that led up to it.

Then he flubbed a chance to tie the game 1-1 about six minutes later when Jakub Voracek hit him with a perfect pass as he charged in on goalie Henrik Lundqvist. His shot missed the net.

“It was a nice play,” Gill said. “They went in, I was just trying to find the seam. He made a nice play. I just mis-hit it.”

Later, still in the second period, Gill fumbled a pass from Braydon Coburn that wound up in his skates. Dominic Moore was able to grab it and beat Mason for the 3-0 Rangers lead (see highlights).

In fairness to Gill, though, Coburn’s pass went right between his feet and his stick, and seemed to be borne from panic. But Gill wasn’t about to use that as an excuse.

“I tried to kick it up and I kicked it back,” Gill said. “It’s one of those things. I’ve got to make that play and I didn’t.”

Gill finished the game with a minus-2 rating in 12:02 of ice time.

To coach Craig Berube, though, Gill played “fine.” The issues that plagued him were those that affected all of the Flyers, Berube said. The ideas were there, but neither Gill nor the team as a whole could execute them.

“I know the [Moore] goal there, but it just was a missed pass,” Berube said. “Went off his skate. Again, execution.”

Berube elected to go with Gill instead of younger, faster Erik Gustafsson in Grossmann’s place for multiple reasons -- Gill’s size, playoff experience and typical role among them. The risk, of course, was that Gill’s lack of speed could prove exploitable by the Rangers (see Instant Replay).

Grossmann will not be available to play in Game 6, and so Berube will have to reevaluate that decision. Is Gustafsson, who played 31 games but lacks playoff experience and has speed but also had an inconsistent season, the better option?

Gill, obviously, wants a chance to make up for what happened Sunday in Tuesday’s win-or-die game at the Wells Fargo Center.

“They’re a good team,” Gill said. “They overload, they force you into making plays. We’ve got to execute. We’ve got to make plays.

“We’re going back home, and we can make plays at home, and maybe push the pace on them.”

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