NEW YORK – The Philadelphia Flyers can now hold their heads high in the cold air at Fenway Park.
That 2-10-1 skid is quickly becoming a distant memory for the Flyers, who are using a long road trip to rescue what had all the makings of a lost season not long ago. Simon Gagne scored three goals and added an assist, and the Flyers stretched their winning streak to four games by handing the New York Rangers their worst loss of the season, 6-0 on Wednesday night.
“You’re not going to gain any confidence by holding your head down, moping around and not feeling good about yourself,” defenceman Chris Pronger said. “In the toughest circumstances, you’ve got to try to stay as positive as you can and push yourself to get over the hump. Hopefully we’ve done that.”
The Flyers lost 2-1 at home to the Rangers on Dec. 19 and then were dominated by Florida in Philly two nights later.
They then started a six-game trip at Tampa Bay and haven’t lost since. They are 4-0 heading into Boston for Friday’s game at Fenway Park.
“We knew before the Winter Classic that this game was almost more important,” Gagne said. “For us to come here and beat them 6-0 after they beat us in our building, that’s a good feeling.”
Former Rangers forward Blair Betts scored 54 seconds into his return to Madison Square Garden, and Danny Briere and Claude Giroux took advantage of New York turnovers to push the Flyers’ lead to 3-0 in the first period.
That was enough to end the night for goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who remained on the bench after the first intermission of his 300th NHL game. Lundqvist, who made his 13th straight start, sported a baseball cap and a dejected look as he watched warmups, shaking his head in the process.
Rangers coach John Tortorella said he thinks his team cares, but not in this game.
“I’m being honest with you. I don’t have an answer on why we played the way we did,” Tortorella said.
Things went as well in the Philadelphia end as goalie Michael Leighton could have hoped. Leighton, claimed by the Flyers off waivers from Carolina on Dec. 15, made his fourth straight start.
Leighton was hardly tested in earning his fourth NHL shutout, but first since Dec. 28, 2003. He had never won as many as three consecutive games before beating the New York Islanders on Sunday.
“Right now, I’m feeling pretty good and the team is playing well in front of me,” Leighton said. “I was expecting it to be a tight game.”
Chad Johnson was thrown into his NHL debut and was victimized on the first shot he faced. Gagne stole the puck from Brandon Dubinsky along the right-wing boards, skated in alone and beat Johnson just 23 seconds into the middle period.
“There was nothing good about the game,” Dubinsky said. “I don’t want to sit here and talk about how the team played. I know I was awful.”
Johnson settled down during the frame, and made a nice stop at the left post against Gagne, but couldn’t keep the Flyers at bay. During a 5-on-3 power play late in the period, Gagne turned a pass from Briere into another goal that made it 5-0 with 5:19 left.
Lundqvist will be play Thursday at Carolina.
“We’re going to start over, and the best thing for us is to play another game right away,” Tortorella said.
Philadelphia owned a 26-9 edge in shots at that point and helped turn the crowd against the host Rangers. When fans weren’t booing or chanting for general manager Glen Sather to be fired, they were cheering announcements that there was only one minute left in the noncompetitive first two periods.
Gagne finished his third NHL hat trick with 8:30 remaining. He has four goals and three assists in six games since returning from abdominal surgery.
Betts’ last appearance with the Rangers was a Game 6 loss to Washington in the first round of last season’s playoffs when then Washington enforcer Donald Brashear – now a member of the Rangers – drilled him with a hard hit that left Betts with broken bones in his face.
He had reason to celebrate early in his return when he got to a rebound in front and scored past Lundqvist despite being surrounded by four Rangers.
Several minutes later, following a turnover by defenceman Marc Staal, Mike Richards set up Briere’s 14th goal of the season at 8:09. The already frustrated Lundqvist banged his stick against the crossbar.
It would only get worse.
Gagne smacked the puck from the left circle into Lundqvist, and the rebound came right to Giroux – who scored an uncontested goal from the slot with 6:32 left in the first. That prompted Tortorella to use New York’s lone timeout and yell at his club that had earned points in five straight games (4-0-1).
The Rangers were outshot 11-5 in the period, 29-10 through 40 minutes, and 31-22 overall.
NOTES: Richards has four goals in three games after going seven games without one. … The Rangers’ previous worst loss of the season was an 8-3 defeat at Pittsburgh on Nov. 28. It was their first shutout loss. … Lundqvist has been pulled from two games this season.