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.”

Best of NHL: Before visiting Flyers, Devils fall to Canadiens

Best of NHL: Before visiting Flyers, Devils fall to Canadiens

NEWARK, N.J. -- The toughest thing Montreal Canadiens goalie Al Montoya had to do against the New Jersey Devils was stay awake.

The Canadiens limited the Devils to a season-low 17 shots, and Shea Weber and Max Pacioretty each scored a power-play goal during a major penalty early in the third period of Montreal's 3-1 victory Friday night.

"I'd take this any night," Montoya said after the Canadiens snapped a two-game skid. "Your team is playing fantastic in front of you. Halfway through the game it's 1-1 and all I'm really focused on is making that next save. These guys did a phenomenal job and I just wanted to make that next save, and the power play was terrific. The guys were mainly terrific all night."

Alex Galchenyuk added a goal and two assists, and Alexander Radulov had three assists as Montreal ended the Devils' three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Big 2nd period helps Penguins roll Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have been beatable away from home this season. Good thing for them this felt nothing like a road game.

Phil Kessel had a goal and an assist during Pittsburgh's four-goal second period, and the Penguins routed the Carolina Hurricanes 7-1 on Friday night.

Conor Sheary scored twice, and Evgeni Malkin had a late goal and an assist. Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz joined Sheary in scoring during the second for Pittsburgh.

"In a win like that, I think it was a really complete effort from all the guys," said Sheary, who has four goals in three games. "It's fun to win on the road,” (see full recap).

Blackhawks beat Bruins on Hossa's late goal
BOSTON -- Blackhawks backup Scott Darling insists he isn't trying to take playing time away from No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford.

"I don't know if you guys know who my goalie partner is," Darling said with a smile after beating the Boston Bruins 1-0 on Friday night. "He's one of the best goalies in the world, hands down, no arguments. So I'm just pretty happy to get any games I can."

Marian Hossa scored with 1:26 left to break a scoreless tie, and Darling stopped 30 shots to post his second shutout of the season. Darling is 12-4 and he brought a 2.34 goals-against average into the game, even better than Crawford's 2.54 (see full recap).

Okposo gives Sabres OT win over Red Wings
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Kyle Okposo scored a power-play goal 4:34 into overtime and the Buffalo Sabres rallied to beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 on Friday night.

Ryan O'Reilly had a goal and an assist, and Sam Reinhart also scored to help the Sabres overcome a pair of one-goal deficits. Anders Nilsson made 32 saves for Buffalo, which has won two straight against Detroit in one season for the first time since 1989-90.

Darren Helm and Frans Nielsen scored for the Red Wings, and Petr Mrazek was sharp in stopping 33 shots.

The Red Wings had their three-game winning streak snapped and took a rare loss to Buffalo. They fell to 8-0-2 in their past 10 meetings with the Sabres and 31-4-3 with a tie in their past 39 (see full recap).

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

VOORHEES, N.J. — As bad as things have been for the Flyers — just three wins in their last 14 games — there was no massive shakeup during their mandatory five-day bye week.
 
General manager Ron Hextall didn’t make a trade, nor did he make any roster moves involving a call-up from the Phantoms.
 
Coach Dave Hakstol took one day off, then got back to watching video and live games, almost in a scout mode.
 
When the players hit the ice Friday afternoon at Skate Zone, Hakstol’s lineup was pretty much the same.
 
The only change saw Matt Read re-enter the lineup on the top line with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl after missing two games with a skate cut.
 
The lines and defensive pairs remained the same. Goalie Michal Neuvirth will start Saturday against New Jersey at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, the biggest thing is our overall performance,” Hakstol said. “Coming out of a break, that may be a tough thing to do — to put it all together. But I think the energy will be there both mentally and physically. That’s important. The overall performance.
 
“The results are important on a different level when you start looking at the playoff picture and the race. At the end of the day, two points are going to be important, as well.”
 
The Flyers begin anew (see story) with back-to-back games against New Jersey here on Saturday and then the Islanders on Sunday in Brooklyn.
 
They will play four Eastern Conference opponents between Saturday and next Thursday before they begin the three-day All-Star break.
 
Three of these games are against Metropolitan Division opponents while the fourth is against Toronto. The Maple Leafs happen to hold the second wild-card spot that the Flyers previously had going into the bye week.
 
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally ... guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
 
“You were kind of scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild-card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
 
Hakstol said after his one-day off, he went right back to work in evaluating where this team is. That the team remains intact without any kind of moves seems to send a message to the players.
 
That message is: it’s on you at this point. Don’t count on getting help from the outside. It has to come from within the current roster.
 
“Anything we’ve talked about is us as a group doing things we do well,” Hakstol said. “We’ve had a rough couple weeks where we haven’t been able to do the things we need to and want to consistently.
 
“I’m very confident in this group and this team. For us, what the players said is true. It was a real good time to have a mental and physical break. Now it’s time to get back to work.”
 
What has to improve right from the get-go is the Flyers' 5-on-5 play. Forget for a moment they have scored 75 goals and are 13th in the NHL averaging 2.76 goals a game.
 
The critical factor is 5-on-5 goals against. The Flyers have allowed 98 goals in that situation — only Colorado (100 GA) has allowed more. The Flyers' 3.13 goals-against number is 28th worst in the league.
 
Unless those numbers improve significantly, the Flyers won’t be in the playoffs.
 
“We have to stay within our system,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “We give up too many odd-man rushes. Especially in those final games before the break. That’s a big thing.
 
“When we’re giving up that many, it’s not going to be in our favor. It’s not fair to judge our goalies in those games because we didn’t give them too much help out there.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who plays on a checking line, said the 5-on-5 goals against is a telling stat.
 
“You have it right there,” he said. “You don’t have to say much more than that. You cannot be a consistently good team in the league if you are that low in goals against. It’s something we have to all work together at, as players.”
 
Hakstol said the Flyers enjoyed success 5-on-5 when they were winning because their team play was “consistent” game to game.
 
That hasn’t been the case during this 3-8-3 stretch.
 
“Our 5-on-5 game hasn’t necessarily regressed, but the consistency of it has,” Hakstol said. “That’s when you see the holes defensively. That’s when you see some of the problems you run into.
 
“We’ve got to get back to it. Back to a full 60 minutes of good 5-on-5 play. That’s up to each and every one of us, taking that responsibility and making the push to do that.”