Friday, April 25, 2014
Lack of killer instinct keeps Flyers buzzing
By Katie Strang
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux guaranteed his club would take Game 4 and even the series. And the Flyers got it done Friday, knocking off the New York Rangers in a come-from-behind 2-1 win to send the two teams back to New York even at two games apiece.
And while Giroux’s unwavering confidence didn’t immediately translate for the Flyers on Friday -- they fell behind 1-0 early -- the team eventually followed through on his promise.
Well, they keep saying they have learned from the past, that they need to take hold of a lead and build on it rather than squander the opportunity to take a commanding two-game advantage. But they haven’t been able to do the job.
The power-play didn't capitalize. Despite a frenetic last shift in the last seventy seconds of play, star winger Rick Nash has yet to deliver a game-breaking playoff moment. The Rangers couldn't score that extra goal when needed, even when the Flyers were down to five defenseman after Nicklas Grossman left the game with a lower-body injury in the second period.
The Rangers didn't have enough punch in Philly, failing again to take a commanding series lead.
Even after Friday night, the Rangers seemed resigned to the reality that this may turn into another seven-game slugfest, despite the fact that they have outplayed the Flyers through significant portions of the first four games.
“You’re playing a team that’s trying to win, too,” said veteran forward Martin St. Louis. “They’re not gonna lay down and give you four straight. You’ve got to go out there and earn it every night.”
The Rangers lacked that crucial quality -- killer instinct -- Friday night as they allowed the Flyers to claw back in the game despite a lopsided first period in which they outshot the home team 16-6. After Dominic Moore’s first-period marker just 4:38 into play, the Flyers knotted the score midway through the frame, lucky to escape the first period tied 1-1.
First-line winger Jake Voracek tallied the go-ahead goal with a deft tip in front of the net on a power play at 7:22 of the second period, and the Rangers could not find a way to exploit what they might have anticipated to be some rustiness from Steve Mason.
Making his first start of the series, Mason did not look like someone who had gone 13 days between starts, but the Rangers were not happy with the pressure they put forth on the 25-year-old netminder. Mason made his first start since suffering an upper-body injury the final weekend of the regular season, making 37 saves to record the first playoff win of his career.
“I think we made it too easy on Mason,” said St. Louis, who finished with three shots on goal Friday night.
The Rangers pelted Mason with shots, sure, but didn’t feel they did enough to make him uncomfortable or obstruct his view. Again, traffic and net presence was an area in which they felt they could do better.
“We needed to make it harder on him, obviously. He saw quite a few of the shots,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after the game.
The Rangers suffered a letdown on the power play as well, wasting a prime 4-on-3 opportunity in the second period that carried over into the third. The Rangers went 0-for-4 on the man advantage Friday night, with special teams being a critical factor in both of the clubs’ two losses during this best-of-seven set.
“Our power play had the opportunity to get us back in [the game],” Vigneault said. “But we didn’t get it done.”
The inability to “get it done” of course, is the Rangers' most immediate problem at the moment. Two years ago, they endured two grueling seven-game series en route to the Eastern Conference finals. Both of those series could have, and should have, been put away earlier.
This Flyers team is one that has rallied back plenty throughout a season that began bleakly and has subsequently been built around resilience. The Flyers trust in their ability to fight from behind, and now they have all the momentum heading into Game 5.
The Rangers have a best-of-three battle ahead. Like Giroux did before Game 4, they circled the wagons and expressed confidence after Friday's loss.
“We believe in ourselves here,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has emerged as one of the team’s quiet leaders and the odds-on favorite to become the next team captain. “Have faith and play the way we’re capable of and we’ll be all right.”
Really, what more needs to be said? Now it’s time to those turn words into works.
“It’s a battle of three now and we need a huge game on home ice on Sunday," Nash said. "We need our fans as loud as usual and the Madison Square Garden rocking.”