By Mike Lipka
Philadelphia (37-20-10) at NY Rangers (35-26-8), 12:30 p.m. EST
NEW YORK (Ticker) — Going into the weekend, the New York
Rangers appeared to be gaining momentum in the Eastern
Conference playoff race under new coach John Tortorella.
In a span of just over 24 hours, the Philadelphia Flyers can
take it all away.
The Flyers will look improve their own positioning and complete
a home-and-home sweep of their Atlantic Division rivals Sunday
Sparked by a coaching change when Tortorella replaced Tom Renney
on Feb. 23, the previously reeling Rangers (35-26-8) had won
four of five going into the weekend, with their beleaguered
offense scoring at least four goals in each victory.
Despite peppering Flyers goalie Martin Biron with 41 shots
Saturday afternoon, New York lost 4-2 in Philadelphia, failing
to gain ground in a crowded East race. The Rangers are part of a
six-team scrum battling for the final four playoff spots.
“Every game right now is important for us,” said New York goalie
Henrik Lundqvist, who had won four straight starts before losing
Saturday. “We need the points. We did a lot of good things, but
it wasn’t enough. We got caught too low a couple of times and
they took advantage of it. Their transition game is pretty good.
When you lose pucks down low, they’re pretty good turning that
into scoring chances.”
Arron Asham converted a pair of his opportunities, scoring his
sixth and seventh goals of the season – both in the third period
on assists from Claude Giroux and Daniel Carcillo to give the
Flyers a three-goal lead.
Biron also was a standout in his fourth straight start for
Philadelphia, and he could be taking control of the job after
sharing time with Antero Niittymaki for much of the season.
He has won three of the four outings, allowing two or fewer
goals each time, and he stopped all 16 of New York’s
second-period shots during what Flyers coach John Stevens called
his best performance of the season.
“I felt like I was reacting quick on the puck,” Biron said. “It
was all about quick reaction.”
The Flyers (37-20-10), trying to solidify their hold on fourth
place in the East, now kick off a four-game road trip which
includes matchups with playoff hopefuls Buffalo and Pittsburgh
as well as West-leading Detroit. They’ve won four of five on the
road overall and are 3-0-1 in their last four trips to Madison
Philadelphia lost to New York in its season opener Oct. 11, but
it has since won two straight in the series and has now killed
all 13 Rangers power plays it has faced this season. These teams
play three more times — two in the final week of the season.
While the Flyers rank among the East’s leaders with 3.2 goals
per game, offense has been a consistent problem for the Rangers,
who rank last in the league in goals and shooting percentage.
Sean Avery scored his second goal in as many games Saturday and
fellow newcomer Nik Antropov also scored, but New York still
managed two or fewer goals for the 14th time in 20 games. The
team is 0-10-4 in those games, and 6-0-0 over that span when it
scores at least three goals.
“I thought we were outstanding for 30-35 minutes (Saturday), but
then I think we struggled with some basic stuff for a number of
minutes so it’s just consistency,” Tortorella said. “We did some
good things for a number of minutes, but it’s not good enough to
get a win.”