Earlier in the week, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault, his team virtually out of the playoff picture and playing for pride or for a job next season, talked about the 11 remaining games.
“We’re going to find out a lot about our guys in these last games, as far as them being true professionals,” he said.
Well, what we learned Thursday in Madison Square Garden was this: Goalie Brian Elliott, at 36, still has something left in the tank; right winger Wade Allison, at 23, looks like a keeper; and James van Riemsdyk, at 31, can still score with the best of them in front of the net — even with a battered face.
Van Riemsdyk scored two power-play goals — one off his face, the other on a deflection with his stick — as the Flyers severely damaged the Rangers’ slim playoff hopes with a 3-2 victory.
Elliott (33 saves) was excellent, and Allison, playing in just his fourth NHL game, was one of the Flyers’ most energetic players.
Van Riemsdyk was certainly their most courageous.
Wearing a chin protector from an injury earlier in the game, van Riemsdyk deflected home Ivan Provorov’s drive with 9 minutes, 31 seconds remaining to snap a 1-1 tie.
“Ultimately, that’s part of the job description for me, as far as being in front of the net,” van Riemsdyk said. ”There’s lots of chaos there, and I’ve been pretty lucky for most of my career and haven’t really taken too many pucks up high like that.”
With 11:46 left in regulation, the Flyers got a four-minute power play because of K’Andre Miller’s high-sticking penalty, leading to van Riemsdyk’s 16th goal of the season, tops on the team.
Jake Voracek, on a two-on-one with Claude Giroux (six shots), made it 3-1 with 5:53 remaining.
With their goalie pulled, Artemi Panarin made it 3-2 with two minutes left.
The loss pushed the Rangers eight points behind Boston for the East Division’s final playoff spot. The Blueshirts are now three points ahead of the Flyers.
The Flyers and Rangers will have a rematch Friday at the Garden.
In a bizarre power-play tally, van Riemsdyk tied the game at 1-1 with the Flyers’ first goal in over 111 minutes. Travis Konecny’s shot deflected off Rangers defenseman Miller and then off van Riemsdyk’s face before trickling past goalie Igor Shesterkin with 4:04 left in the second period.
“He took one for the team,” Vigneault said.
Van Riemsdyk went right to the locker room for repairs near his jaw – he returned to the ice with blood on his jersey early in the third period – after scoring his 15th goal.
After the game, Vigneault said X-rays were negative.
“I was more shocked than anything, especially when you’re not really expecting it and it’s a deflected puck,” van Riemsdyk said. “I’m just happy it’s all good.”
With 54.3 seconds left in the second, Joel Farabee was easily stopped by Shesterkin on a penalty shot. Allison had sent Farabee in on a breakaway, but he was pulled down by Libor Hajek.
Earlier in the second, Elliott made a sensational glove save while down on the ice, robbing Panarin of a power-play goal midway through the period.
“When a goaltender does that for you, it brings a tremendous amount of confidence to the rest of the team,” Vigneault said.
“He was really dialed in and made a lot of big stops,” van Riemsdyk said.
The Flyers, playing for the first time since Sunday, fell into an early 1-0 hole. Again. It marked the 14th time in the last 16 games they had allowed the first goal.
Just after a New York power-play had expired midway through the first period, the Rangers struck as defenseman Brendan Smith ripped a top-of-the-right-circle shot past Elliott, who was screened by Brett Howden.
Phil Myers had just left the penalty box but was not yet back in the play when Smith fired his shot.
The Rangers controlled the first period and had a slew of high-quality chances, including a pair of two-on-one shorthanded opportunities. In one flurry late in the period, Elliott made three straight saves from close range.
Allison, a rookie right winger playing with hunger and physicality, had the Flyers’ two best chances in the first, but was stopped by Shesterkin from the doorstep both times. That gave Allison eight high-quality scoring chances in his first 10 NHL periods.
This was the Flyers’ first trip back to Manhattan since their Mugging in Madison Square Garden on March 17. The Rangers won that game, 9-0, as they handed the Flyers their second-largest margin of defeat in their franchise’s history – and their worst road shutout loss ever.
The teams had met twice at the Wells Fargo Center since that blowout – an 8-3 Rangers win, and a 2-1 Flyers victory, one in which Samuel Morin snapped a 1-1 tie by scoring his first NHL goal with 4:27 left.