The Flyers and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin heard cheers and boos from the sellout crowd of 19,623 attending the team's season opener at the Wachovia Center last night.

Palin generated both reactions while being introduced and dropping the ceremonial first puck.

The Flyers heard the boos after a dreadful first period. They regrouped and got the fans back on their side, only to drop a 4-3 decision to the New York Rangers.

The Rangers, off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 1983, built a 4-0 first-period lead that caused Flyers coach John Stevens to remove goalie Marty Biron from the team's season opener.

"We dug ourselves a big hole, and I liked the effort to get back," Stevens said. "But this was their fourth game and they were sharp and ready to go, and it seemed like we were a step behind moving the puck in the first 20 minutes."

The crowd included America's most famous hockey mom, Palin, the Alaska governor who kissed the cheek of the Rangers' Scott Gomez - an Alaska native - after he took the ceremonial face-off with Flyers captain Mike Richards.

Palin took a tour of the building during the first period and asked to stop in the Flyers' locker room. No one was in there except for some locker-room attendants, and the governor signed her name beneath a message she wrote on the dry-eraser board:

"Let's go boys!"

The Flyers seemed to take her advice. After being outplayed badly in the first period, they steadied themselves in the second period and got a shorthanded goal from Scott Hartnell and another score from Simon Gagne to slice the deficit to 4-2.

Gagne, who played in only 25 games last year because of a concussion, fired a shot that caromed off the left post and bounced off sprawling goalie Stephen Valiquette's back and fluttered into the goal.

Richards made it 4-3 by scoring 5 minutes, 38 seconds into the third period. Center Danny Briere, near the right boards, fired a long pass in front that Richards deftly tapped past Valiquette, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

With a little more than nine minutes remaining, Richards rattled a shot off the left post. Shortly thereafter, the Flyers had a five-on-three power play but failed to get a shot on goal.

Breakdowns by an inexperienced defense and shoddy goaltending by Biron put the Flyers in the early 4-0 hole.

In the first period, a shot from the point bounced off two Flyers and the Rangers' Aaron Voros - and caromed to New York's Nikolai Zherdev, who tapped in the first goal just as a penalty against Flyers center Jared Ross expired 4:12 into the game.

A little more than a minute later, Blair Betts scored for the first time in 39 games, putting the Rangers ahead, 2-0. Before the period ended, Fredrik Sjostrom scored on a wraparound and Michal Rozsival delivered on a slapshot from the point - a power-play goal that sent Biron off the ice in favor of Antero Niittymaki.

"Sometimes a change of goalie refocuses the team and you go from there," said Stevens, whose team got strong play from 18-year-old defenseman Luca Sbisa. "He [Niittymaki] made some terrific saves and gave us a chance to win."

"It obviously isn't the start we wanted for our home opener," Richards said. "After they got up a couple of goals, I thought we kind of kept our composure. We came out in the second period, regrouped, and got some opportunities and capitalized on them."

Added Richards: "They came out like a team that had already played three games, and we weren't ready for the pace of play. Then we started playing our game, but it was a little late."

"The way we played the last 40 minutes, we probably deserved better," said Briere, who played on a dominating line with Richards and Gagne. "We just ran out of time."

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.