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 afternoon.
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 Square Garden.
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.”