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Flyers need to steal one in New York

Poor performance by top line as much to blame for loss to Rangers as untimely penalty.

Scott Hartnell (19) looks to pass after checking New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh (27) during the first period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series on Thursday, April 17, 2014, in New York. (Frank Franklin II/AP)
Scott Hartnell (19) looks to pass after checking New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh (27) during the first period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series on Thursday, April 17, 2014, in New York. (Frank Franklin II/AP)Read more

NEW YORK - In 1978, a Lufthansa facility at Kennedy Airport was the target and thieves stole $5 million in cash and nearly $1 million in jewelry. It was the largest cash robbery ever in the United States, a story so colorfully outrageous that it formed the spine of several movies, including "Goodfellas."

If the Flyers, tied at 1-1 after two periods, had beaten the Rangers last night at Madison Square Garden, the robbery would have been bigger and even more audacious.

But the final score was 4-1, which more resembled reality. The Rangers scored twice in the middle of the third period while the Flyers' Jason Akeson was serving a double-minor penalty for high sticking, and that was that in Game 1 of their best-of-seven playoff series.

Akeson was hustling on a back check and he lost control of his stick and cut the Rangers' Carl Hagelin. The effort on his part was good, the result disastrous. Yet to pin this on Akeson would be to ignore the bigger picture, and the key number: 15. That was the Flyers' pathetic shot total.

Fifteen. As defenseman Andrew MacDonald said, "It's certainly not going to win you a game."

The Flyers undoubtedly keep zone time and time-of-possession numbers, and they will be aghast when they see the totals - that is how dominant the Rangers were in this game. These teams were supposed to be just about even - the standings said it and so did most of observers - but the Rangers' forecheck was consistently enveloping the Flyers when it wasn't smothering them. The Flyers countered feebly, and only sporadically.

Their strategy seemed pretty simple - to get pucks in deep and forecheck. It is an old-school way to play a Stanley Cup playoff road game when you don't have the matchups you want. But the Flyers seemed to stop doing it after the first period. They just couldn't sustain anything.

The way it started, you could see a path for the Flyers. They didn't get much generated early, but they did discover at least the hint of an important fact: that Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers' best defenseman, does still seem to be a little gun-shy and a little hesitant, likely because of a lingering shoulder ailment that hit him at the end of the regular season.

The Flyers' first goal was the direct result of testing McDonagh physically. Scott Hartnell hit McDonagh in the corner and took the puck away from him, passing it out to the point to MacDonald, who fired through traffic to beat Henrik Lundqvist. McDonagh crosschecked Claude Giroux to the ice as the goal was scored, and Giroux was slow to get up. There was no penalty. Later in the third period, after the score was 3-1, Giroux slashed McDonagh and got called for a penalty.

Both plays were undoubtedly made out of frustration. But the key point was that the Giroux line did not continue to challenge McDonagh, who chalked up his uneven play to rustiness. The line did not get enough pucks in deep enough. It was neutered by McDonagh and defense partner Dan Girardi, as it has been time and again in this building. Giroux and Jakub Voracek did not even have a shot on goal between them. Hartnell had two.

After the game, Giroux talked about how it was just one game, and tried to steer the conversation to some of the good things the Flyers did. He was not successful with the steering. Coach Craig Berube was blunt when asked about his top line:

"They didn' t produce. Well, it's not that they didn't produce - they didn't shoot pucks. They didn't get shots on net. They didn't attack. We had a power play in the third period and we didn't get a shot. We had a couple missed shots, one blocked, but obviously not getting enough action at the net."

It wasn't only the top line, of course. The defense, for instance, needs to do much better getting back for pucks and beginning the counterattack. But the point seems obvious: that while it was only one game, yes - "There is a reason why there are seven games," Giroux said - it was eye-opening nonetheless.

Unless the laws of physics and seven-game series have been rewritten, the Flyers are going to have to win a game in Madison Square Garden to win this series - but they haven't won here since 2011 and appear no closer to figuring out the answer.

There is only one thing for sure. As Wayne Simmonds said, "We've got to play better than that - that's for sure."