Two dominant performances over the Philadelphia Flyers last month helped propel the New York Rangers into the playoff race for the fourth and final spot in the East Division.
But getting dominated by their biggest rival in their last game did not help the cause for the Rangers, who hope to get back on track when they host the fading Flyers on Thursday night for the first of a back-to-back set.
The Rangers (23-17-6, 52 points) gained points in three of four meetings (2-1-1) from the Flyers last month, including a 9-0 home win on March 17 when Mika Zibanejad had six points in the second period and an 8-3 win in Philadelphia on March 25 when Zibanejad scored three power-play goals and collected six points.
Those wins are part of a 13-5-3 stretch following Artemi Panarin’s return from a two-week absence due to personal reasons on March 13. The Rangers were two games under .500 when Panarin missed his last game and were nine points behind the Boston Bruins.
New York has never gotten closer than three points back and has played two more games than Boston. The Rangers stayed four points back after scoring 18 goals in four straight wins over the New Jersey Devils but dropped six points out after getting outplayed in a 6-1 loss to the host New York Islanders on Tuesday.
“When you lose 6-1 in the fashion we did, it certainly is humbling, that’s for sure,” Rangers coach David Quinn said.
It was New York’s most lopsided loss of the season, and the Rangers fell apart after defenseman Jacob Trouba sustained an upper body injury after getting checked into the boards midway through the first period. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin gave up three goals before Kevin Rooney scored the lone goal and then allowed three more in a span of 3:38 during the third period.
“I don’t think we came up to the level of play that we needed to,” Zibanejad said. “It felt disconnected. We were a little bit too far from each other and couldn’t really get that forecheck that we have and the offense that we usually have.”
Philadelphia’s situation is significantly more dire.
The Flyers (20-18-7, 47 points) began the four games with the Rangers last month three points back of Boston. And after that final meeting — a 2-1 win on March 27 — remained three points back of the Bruins.
Since the last meeting with the Rangers, Philadelphia is 4-5-3 and has dropped four of five (1-3-1) since a 3-2 win over Boston on April 10. That win pulled the Flyers to within four points of Boston, but Philadelphia is 11 points behind the Bruins and five points behind the Rangers.
The Flyers have been idle since Sunday when they suffered a 1-0 overtime loss to the visiting New York Islanders. Kevin Hayes had five of their 30 shots but also committed a turnover that led to the decisive goal in overtime.
“The first and second periods, we had some great looks,” Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault said. “Their goaltender made some real big saves at the right time. In my estimation, we had enough looks in those two periods to get a couple.”
The Flyers have played the last two games without goaltender Carter Hart (lower body injury). Hart, who allowed 13 goals to the Rangers last month, did not practice Tuesday and could be out Thursday.