As Flyers suffer brutal loss, playoff door begins to close

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As Flyers suffer brutal loss, playoff door begins to close

BOX SCORE

With a lot of talk about believing in each other and their ability to scratch and claw their way to the playoffs, the Flyers had deemed each one of the 10 games they’ve played so far in March a must-win.

But after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers, they fell to 3-6-1 for the month, and seven points out of playoff contention.

“It comes down to one-on-one battles, and we didn’t win many of them today,” Kimmo Timonen said. “I think it was all Rangers -- they were hungrier and a better team today.”

Time is running short for the Flyers, who are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and have just 16 games left in the season to get their act together. But against the Rangers, to whom they’ve now lost 11 of their last 12 games, the Flyers allowed themselves to fall into a 3-0 deficit before they woke up at all.

They seem to think they know the reason why.

The problem is, they can’t figure out how to correct it.

“I always think it comes down to individual preparation,” Timonen said. “You’re either ready to play or you’re not. And a lot of guys, a lot of people, blame coaches. But we play the game. We’re out there making plays. Like I said, you’re ready to play or you’re not.”

And on Tuesday night, right from the very first shift, in which they allowed Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin to skate in on Ilya Bryzgalov on a breakaway, the Flyers simply weren’t ready to play.

“The losses are just a result of us not coming to battle shift after shift,” Wayne Simmonds said. “To win games in this league that’s what you have to do, and it just didn’t happen tonight.”

Based on all their talk, and even on the way in which they played for much of Sunday’s overtime loss in Pittsburgh, though, they should have been. In fact, it should have been Timonen’s night to shine. With his friends and family in attendance, the veteran defenseman was honored before the game for having played his 1,000th affair in the NHL.

Instead, it was the Rangers’ Rick Nash and Derek Stepan who stole the spotlight.

Stepan had four points and was involved in all but one of the Rangers’ goals, while Nash scored twice. The ex-Blue Jacket has now scored four goals (equal to a third of his season total) against the Flyers in 2013.

The game seemed to unravel for the Flyers in the second period. Though the Flyers entered the middle frame trailing 1-0 thanks to Nash, the Flyers fell apart as it went on, allowing goals to Brad Richards and Stepan, who now has points in 11 of the Rangers’ last 14 games.

Simmonds got one back late in the second period after the Flyers had fallen down 3-0, but the period ended 3-1 -- and the Flyers were 1-10 when trailing after two periods this season heading into Tuesday’s affair.

“It’s disappointing,” Claude Giroux said. “It’s a big game. Need to find a way to be ready for those kinds of games. It’s frustrating because we have a good team in here and can’t find a way to get those wins.”

Voracek, who recorded his 10th multi-point game of the season, scored for the Flyers in the third period. Giroux’s shot from the high slot appeared to hit Jakub Voracek in the chin area, into the net, making it 3-2 and giving fans hope of a comeback.

But whatever hope there was faded quickly, however, when Nash scored his second of the night on a wraparound less than a minute and a half later. Chris Kreider’s goal to make it 5-2 sucked what air remained out of the arena. Fans left in droves.

“We have 16 games left, and to me, we have to move on,” Timonen said. “Obviously it’s tough and this was a huge game to lose. We can talk all we want or watch tape, but once we step on the ice and it doesn’t happen that’s our fault. We’re the players that play the game and that’s our fault.”

There are small things to build on from Tuesday’s game. Bryzgalov looked very sharp through two periods, and the Flyers finally scored a third-period goal. But the end result makes it that much harder for the team -- and its fans -- to keep the faith that a run at the playoffs is at all possible.

“There’s nowhere to go except to the rink tomorrow for practice and to get ready for the next game,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Regardless of how the night went, the season’s not over. We need to win hockey games. The objective remains the same.”

Four games now remain in what is undeniably a crucial homestand for the Flyers. And most of the players in the locker room believe they must win all four in order to have any chance of making the postseason.

“We have four games left on this homestand, and we’ve got to put up points,” Simmonds said. “There’s no excuses.”

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Antti Niemi

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Antti Niemi

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Antti Niemi
Age: 33
Height: 6-2
Weight: 215
Last team: Dallas Stars
2016-17 cap hit: $4.5 million

Scouting report
Niemi signed with the Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and played three games for Chicago in 2008-09. He broke training camp with the Blackhawks in 2009-10 and eventually took over as the team's No. 1 goalie by the end of the season and for the playoffs.

The Vantaa, Finland, native started 22 games in the postseason and helped the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup win over the Flyers in 2010, though his numbers in the Final weren't pretty. In six games against the Flyers, he posted an .882 save percentage. Overall, Niemi had a 2.63 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in the 2010 playoffs.

After winning the Cup with Chicago, Niemi filed for arbitration but the Blackhawks didn't want to pay the $2.75 million he was awarded and walked away. He signed a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks, where he ended up spending the next five seasons.

In those five seasons, Niemi compiled a .917 save percentage and 2.40 goals-against average along with 25 shutouts. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Niemi was 24-12-6 with a 2.16 GAA, .924 save percentage and four shutouts. He was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which Sergei Bobrovsky won.

San Jose traded Niemi's rights to the Dallas Stars at the 2015 draft. Dallas signed Niemi to a three-year, $13.5 million contract to pair with Kari Lehtonen. In 2015-16, Niemi posted a 2.67 GAA with a .905 save percentage. He was 25-13-7 and was the backup in the playoffs.

Last season was a disaster in net for the Stars. Both Lehtonen and Niemi struggled, and Dallas missed the playoffs. Niemi had an NHL-worst 3.30 goals-against average and his .892 save percentage was the second worst in the league to Michal Neuvirth (.891).

Dallas acquired Ben Bishop this offseason and then placed Niemi on waivers with the intention to buy out his final year. The Stars will carry a $1.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons while Niemi is an unrestricted free agent.

Dougherty's projection
Niemi is the worst possible option on the market for the Flyers. Going into next season with the two worst goalies from last season based off save percentage would be a major slap in the face of Steve Mason. With that said, I do think he's an option, unfortunately. 

With Ryan Miller reportedly likely to sign in Anaheim, Mike Condon staying in Ottawa, Chad Johnson likely going back to Buffalo, the free-agent goalie market is filling up quickly. There appear to be three teams in the market for either a starter or tandem goalie.

The Flyers are one of them. Winnipeg and Vancouver are the other two. The three best options on the market are Mason, Jonathan Bernier and Brian Elliott. But that doesn't necessarily mean the Flyers view it the same or that any of those three will sign here.

So, it's fair to examine Niemi as a potential fit, albeit not a good one. Let's keep it simple.

Positive: He's cost effective. Since the Stars are still paying him and with his numbers from last season, it's hard to imagine a team handing out a lot of money for him.

Negative: Well, he's not very good. The Flyers may be better off calling Ilya Bryzgalov than signing Niemi. This is a hard pass from me.

Hall's projection
This shouldn't happen for the Flyers.

Niemi turns 34 years old in August and his goals-against average has ballooned each of the past five seasons, with the 2016-17 campaign being his most futile, as his 3.30 GAA was worst in the NHL among netminders with 25 or more games played.

Like Tom said above, Niemi would not take much out of the Flyers' pockets. Maybe the Flyers can get him on a strict one-year insurance policy for dirt cheap — still, extremely unlikely. The Flyers want some quality here, too, not just a bargain.

The Flyers will do their due diligence. Provided the goalie market, Niemi should be evaluated but not seriously considered. The Finn looks in decline and Dallas couldn't get anything in exchange for his services and contract before buying him out.

Paone's projection
The Flyers should be steering way clear of Niemi here.

It’s easy to see why the Stars, a team that was in desperate need of goaltending help before they landed Bishop, decided to cut ties with Niemi last week with a buyout and were willing to eat his cap hit that came with it. Niemi had the chance to take the reins on a star-studded Dallas team and responded by playing like a sieve last season. The numbers Tom and Jordan mentioned above are the proof you need. 

Sure, Niemi would come to Philadelphia on a bargain and that no doubt is a fact that would catch the eyes of Hextall and the Flyers’ brass. And they should do their due diligence on Niemi, as they should with every goaltender on the market. They’d be doing a disservice to the team if they didn’t closely examine any goalie on the market.

But a goaltender on the clear decline isn’t one of the criteria on the Flyers’ checklist here.

And that decline has been steady for Niemi. His goals against average has consistently risen from 2.16 in 2012-13 to that gaudy 3.30 mark last season. And his save percentage has steadily dipped from .924 in 2012-13 to an ugly .892 last year. There’s a reason San Jose decided to move on two offseasons ago and then give up an asset like a precious first-round pick for Martin Jones to shore up their net.

Think about it this way: Isn’t the point of signing and investing in a free agent to make an improvement over what you had last season? 

Would a Niemi-Neuvirth tandem be an improvement over a Mason-Neuvirth tandem? Nope.

NHL Notes: Blues lose Patrik Berglund until December after shoulder surgery

NHL Notes: Blues lose Patrik Berglund until December after shoulder surgery

ST. LOUIS -- Blues center Patrik Berglund is expected to be out until December after having surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder.

The Blues say Berglund was injured during an offseason conditioning program in Sweden and flew to St. Louis for Tuesday's procedure. The team called it a successful surgery.

The 29-year-old Berglund scored a career-high 23 goals and finished with 34 points in 2016-17, adding four assists in 11 playoff games.

Berglund has spent his entire nine-year NHL career with the Blues, scoring 296 points in 637 regular-season games.

St. Louis fell to Nashville in the second round of the playoffs last season.

Red Wings: Worker dies after fall from new arena
DETROIT -- A worker has died after falling 75 feet (23 meters) at the Little Caesars Arena worksite north of downtown Detroit.

Deputy Detroit Fire Commissioner David Fornell says the 46-year-old man was in cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Other workers had started cardiopulmonary resuscitation which first responders continued. The man was taken to a Detroit hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Fornell says officials were told the man was an electrical worker and may have fallen from a catwalk. He says the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration likely will investigate.

The arena will be home to the NHL's Detroit Red Wings and the NBA's Pistons. It is scheduled to open this fall.