Coming off their clutch and emotional 1-0 victory over the Islanders on Saturday night, the Rangers faced the prospects of having to play with the same passion and energy Tuesday night in Philadelphia against a Flyers team that is clinging to its last playoff hopes.
After a slow start the Rangers did come on Tuesday night, but backup goaltender Steve Mason turned in a strong 38-save effort as the Flyers edged the Rangers 4-2 at the Wells Fargo Center.
The loss was compounded by the fact that both teams ahead of New York---the seventh place Islanders and sixth place Senators---both won their respective games on Tuesday, and the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets pulled even with the Rangers with 46 points with a victory, though the Rangers still have a game in hand on the Jets.
Trailing 3-1, and just stymied for the fifth time on the power play, the Rangers pulled to within a goal of the Flyers at the 7:28 mark of the third period. Ryan Callahan got tied up in the low slot and lost control of the puck, but Derek Stepan picked it up and fired a shot past Mason for his 15th goal.
A minute later, with Mason laying flat on his back, Callahan and Carl Hagelin nearly combined to tie the game with several rebound attempts in tight. Somehow Mason kept the puck out of the net before finally grabbing control of the puck.
Mason, who earned his first win in a Flyers uniform after being acquired from the Blue Jackets at the NHL trade deadline, made 16 of his saves in the third period when the Rangers dominated play. Jakub Voracek scored into the empty-net with 13.8 seconds to play to ice the win for Mason and the Flyers.
After spotting the Flyers a 2-0 lead in a lifeless first period, the Rangers started to turn the tide in their favor early in the second period. Rick Nash had a pair of prime scoring chances which required impressive saves by Mason moments before Mats Zuccarello cut the visitors' deficit in half just 2:54 into the middle stanza.
Zuccarello, who scored 11 goals and totaled 28 points in 44 games played in the KHL this season, netted his first goal since returning to the Rangers nine games ago by whistling a right-wing shot past Mason off the rush with John Moore credited with the lone assist. The Rangers continued to press their momentum following Zuccarello's goal, but, ironically, a Scott Hartnell penalty seemed to swing the momentum back to the Flyers at 4:10.
On the ensuing Rangers power play it was Philadelphia with the better scoring chances while shorthanded. Henrik Lundqvist---who had stoned Sean Couturier on a shorthanded breakaway 14:20 into the first period---made another big pad save on a Couturier scoring chance while shorthanded in the second period. And 30 seconds later Lundqvist robbed former teammate Ruslan Fedotenko's left wing shot off a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush at 5:49.
Philly then seized control by doing the something the Rangers failed to do on four opportunities in the game's first two periods: score on the power play. With Ryane Clowe in the penalty box for boarding Fedotenko, Claude Giroux beat Brad Richards clean on a face off, and Kimmo Timonen proceded to blast a shot past Lundqvist to give the Flyers a 3-1 lead exactly ten minutes into the second period.
A fortunate bounce in Philly's favor helped put the Rangers in a 1-0 hole 9:28 into the opening period. Rookie defenseman Brandon Manning had his right wing shot off the rush blocked, but the puck caromed through the crease to a wide open Brayden Schenn on left wing. Schenn quickly deposited the puck into the cage for his eighth goal of the season.
The Flyers doubled their lead at 17:21 of the first when defenseman Erik Gustafsson drove a right wing shot past Lundqvist off the rush for his third goal of the season. Coutirier made the pretty cross-ice pass to set up the score.
To add injury to insult, Brian Boyle seemed to suffer an apparent lower body injury midway through the first period---at one point he came out on the ice during a TV timeout to stretch his legs. Boyle did not come out of the dressing room to start the second period, and the Rangers announced he would not play the remainder of the game. There was no word on a specific injury.
Late in the third period Michael Del Zotto blocked a shot with his stick, but the puck rode up the shaft and struck him directly in the mouth. Del Zotto was down on the ice for several minutes being attended to by trainer Jim Ramsay before heading to the dressing room. After a few minutes in the back, Del Zotto did return to the game.