Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock likened Thursday's Rangers-Flyers tilt to a playoff game.
He had it right all the way until the end. Overtime playoff games are supposed to drag on until the school bus arrives in the morning or your VCR runs out of tape, whichever comes first.
They don't end in seven seconds, which is exactly what happened Thursday when Simon Gagne snapped an odd-angle shot past shocked Rangers goalie Kevin Weekes. It was the fastest overtime resolution since the league instituted four-on-four overtimes in 1999-2000.
If only getting this far in the regular season had been so easy for the Flyers. Somehow Philadelphia stands just one point behind Ottawa in the Eastern Conference despite losing nearly 200 player games to injury. And they haven't been injuries to fourth-liners.
General Manager Bob Clarke says he's never seen anything like this (the injury bug), and yet the team is enjoying a run of success on the road (points in 13 straight games) unmatched since the 1979-80 season.
Ottawa has its hands full if the Flyers can return from the Olympic break fully loaded for the stretch run.
(Records and rankings through Thursday, Jan. 5.)
1. Ottawa Senators (28-8-3; Previous: 1) – Ray Emery needs to get another start soon – anything to erase the memory of Monday's 8-3 loss at Atlanta. With Dominik Hasek fighting a balky back, the Senators don't need his backup wrestling with confidence problems.
2. Philadelphia Flyers (26-8-6; Previous: 2) – Another week, another Ken Hitchcock lineup adjustment. Jeff Carter joined Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne on the top line Thursday. The last time Mike Knuble was bumped off the top line the change lasted roughly two minutes. The Flyers enter play Friday having claimed a point in 13 straight road games.
3. Detroit Red Wings (27-10-3; Previous: 4) – Defenseman Niklas Kronwall could be giving Detroit's injury-depleted blue line a much-needed boost shortly. Kronwall, who scored 53 points in 76 AHL games a year ago, is expected to return from a knee injury shortly before the Olympic break.
4. Buffalo Sabres (27-12-2; Previous: 3) – Coach Lindy Ruff says he plans to keep both Ryan Miller and Martin Biron busy in the coming months. Trade rumors continue to swirl around Biron, Buffalo's December hero, who has been linked to talks with Vancouver, Colorado and Edmonton.
5. Los Angeles Kings (27-14-2; Previous: 10) – The Kings have claimed 15 of a possible 18 points in their last eight matchups with division opponents. The streak includes three straight wins over Dallas. Luc Robitaille scored twice Thursday after 14 straight without a tally.
6. Carolina Hurricanes (25-10-4; Previous: 7) – Left wing Eric Cole has eight goals and six assists in 12 games after enduring a stretch of 13 games without a goal. It's not about to bump Marek Malik's shootout goal out of the top spot for shot of the year, but Wednesday's cross-ice, off-the-boards pass from Cory Stillman to Cole, who finished the play by beating Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen, was a thing of beauty.
7. Dallas Stars (25-12-2; Previous: 5) – Nice gut-check win for the Stars on Wednesday. Just minutes from losing their fourth decision in five games, Dallas rallied for three late goals to surprise Vancouver, 3-1. Jason Arnott's first goal in eight games could get him going.
8. Calgary Flames (24-12-4; Previous: 9) – Some are calling Kristian Huselius a changed man since he joined the Flames. There's no question he has more jump playing for a playoff contender, but don't discount the impact of the men around him on his scoring revival. Now can Jarome Iginla keep up?
9. Nashville Predators (25-11-3; Previous: 6) – Right wing Scott Walker, the team's leading scorer from 2003-04, may return any day after missing more than two months with a sports hernia. Center Vernon Fiddler has been mentioned as a candidate for demotion to make room. Not so fast, says Fiddler, who scored twice Wednesday to help the Preds snap a four-game slide.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (23-14-3; Previous: 13) – A few injury updates courtesy of the Toronto Sun. Jason Allison practiced Wednesday and plans to make do with a splint on his finger for the next several weeks. Darcy Tucker will gut it out and play with sore ribs. Eric Lindros is another story. The center still can't grip a stick and may be facing surgery. Through all this the Leafs bring a six-game winning streak into the weekend.
11. Vancouver Canucks (22-14-5; Previous: 8) – Declared "so-so" on the road in this space last week, the Canucks are proving they're not that good. They dropped the first three games of a four-game trip to drop to 7-11-2 away from home on the season. Ahead: 10 out of 14 on the road.
12. Edmonton Oilers (23-14-4; Previous: 11) – With Raffi Torres (15 goals), Ales Hemsky (28 assists) and Jarret Stoll (40 points) all under the age of 25, the Oilers are positioned to be a force in the wide-open NHL for years to come, even if all the pieces aren't in place this year.
13. New York Rangers (22-12-7; Previous: 8) – It's getting hard to figure out coach Tom Renney's handling of New York's goalie tandem. First he announced a "win and play again" system, with the qualification that if a goalie excels in a loss, he could earn another start. Rookie Henrik Lundqvist presumably did just that Tuesday in blanking Tampa Bay through overtime in an eventual 1-0 loss. It was Kevin Weekes, however, who got the start Thursday. He would allow the game-winner just seven seconds into overtime on what he admitted was a "bad goal." Maybe a bad call on Renney's part, too.
14. Atlanta Thrashers (18-18-6; Previous: 16) – Overlooked during the long wait for rookie goalie Kari Lehtonen's return is the fact that Atlanta has gone 8-4-3 since Peter Bondra was sidelined early in December.
15. Colorado Avalanche (22-17-3; Previous: 19) – Things have settled down a bit in net for the Avalanche – for now. In December you could have called David Aebischer "8-minute Abs" for his propensity for getting yanked early. Thursday was his third straight wire-to-wire effort, and both were solid performances in Colorado wins.
16. San Jose Sharks (17-16-5; Previous: 18) – Nils Ekman has eight assists in two games since joining San Jose's top line. Jonathan Cheechoo is faring OK as well. His hat trick Thursday was his second since Dec. 20. We won't mention their center this week.
17. Phoenix Coyotes (20-19-2; Previous: 15) – Just days after the Arizona Republic speculated that a lack of scoring may keep the team out of the playoffs, the Coyotes were blanked by Los Angeles. Petr Nedved hasn't scored a goal since Oct. 25.
18. Minnesota Wild (19-18-4; Previous: 20) – It's been a bit of a roller coaster, but Minnesota is looking like a playoff team again after wins in eight of 12 games. The Wild play their next six games at home. Success or failure will dictate how the club handles its nine soon-to-be unrestricted free agents come the trade deadline.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning (21-18-3); Previous 17) – The Lightning have scored two or fewer goals in seven of their last nine games. No surprise that the team has converted on only two of 45 power-play opportunities in its last eight games. Captain Dave Andreychuk is rumored to be on the trading block.
20. Montreal Canadiens (18-15-6; Previous: 14) – Goalie Jose Theodore is experiencing the type of struggles Florida netminder Roberto Luongo endured earlier this season. He has allowed four or more goals in seven of 12 starts after Thursday's 5-4 loss. Montreal has lost 12 of its last 13 road games.
21. Florida Panthers (16-21-6; Previous: 23) – Florida is tied with two teams for fewest road wins on the season. The Panthers stole a win in Buffalo on Sunday, but dropped the next two as a five-game trip continues.
22. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (18-15-6; Previous: 22) – Things pick up for the Ducks beginning Friday with a road tilt at Dallas followed by two more games in the next three nights. Few teams had it easier than Anaheim over the holidays.
23. New York Islanders (18-19-2; Previous: 21) – Wade Dubielewicz will make his first start of the season Friday. It's been quite a run for the rookie. First he earned AHL player of the week honors with three wins for Bridgeport, then he earned a win in just two minutes of ice time subbing for an injured Garth Snow in Wednesday's Isles win.
24. Boston Bruins (15-19-6; Previous: 24) – Thursday's big win over Ottawa may have come with a price. Goalie Hannu Toivonen did not play the third period after apparently spraining his ankle late in the second period.
25. New Jersey Devils (18-18-5; Previous: 26) – Patrick Elias has five points in two games since returning from his bout with hepatitis A.
26. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-19-9; Previous: 30) – It's a good thing goalie Marc Andre-Fleury likes to stay active. The defense has been better since Michel Therrien took over behind the bench, but the Penguins still allow too many shots and scoring chances. Fleury has held his own as Pittsburgh has earned points in five straight.
27. Washington Capitals (13-22-3; Previous: 25) – Steve Eminger was a nice story back in October when he recorded nine points and a plus-6 rating even as his team struggled. The defenseman has only one point in his last 12 games and no goals since Dec. 3.
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (12-27-1; Previous: 27) – If Sergei Fedorov is happy to have winger Rick Nash back in the lineup, the elation hasn't translated to the scoresheet. He did manage an assist Thursday, just his third point in nine games since Nash's return.
29. St. Louis Blues (10-24-5; Previous: 28) – St. Louis has won back-to-back games just once this season.
30. Chicago Blackhawks (13-23-4; Previous: 29) – Thursday's loss to Vancouver was Chicago's ninth straight setback. Center Tuomo Ruutu provided a bright spot with a goal and two points – his first appearance on the scoresheet since mid-October. Too bad his older brother Jarkko one-upped him by scoring the game-winner on a penalty shot.
- Ken Hitchcock