NEW YORK - At high noon yesterday, the series was tied at two games apiece. But when you looked back on it, the Rangers were better than the Flyers in about eight of the 12 periods that had been played. That isn't how you keep score in the Stanley Cup playoffs, of course, but it was an indication of something - and now the fifth game was back in Madison Square Garden, and now the Flyers were down a defenseman with Nick Grossmann's injury. Given all of that, it was not hard to see a lopsided Flyers loss.
That is not what happened, at least not the lopsided part. The ledger says that the Rangers won by 4-2 and now hold the lead in the series, and that tomorrow night is an elimination game for the Flyers, and that is all that matters. There really are no such things as style points.
But when you dig down into what happened, it was another game in a series that has so far lacked an emotional edge, another game where the Flyers failed to play anything close to their best, hardest game.
Give the Rangers credit for a healthy portion of that - because their defensive-zone discipline is excellent and their counterattacking speed is simply better than the Flyers'. What the Rangers have lacked is the hammer - in Game 2 when they squandered a big advantage, and in Game 4 when they threatened a stranglehold, and even yesterday, when the Flyers played the better third period and scored 6-on-5 with 1:29 left to make it 3-2.
This is not over. Anybody who says it is over hasn't been watching this series, or watching the Flyers all season. But it is hard to make a case for the Flyers winning two straight games if they cannot get more second shots on Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. They need more garbage, more screens. If Lundqvist has yet complained to the officials about traffic in front of him, I missed it - yet that remains the Flyers' clearest path to the second round.
It is down to this: The Flyers can only rebound . . . with rebounds.
The saddest, truest thing any of the Flyers said in the postgame news conferences was when Scott Hartnell talked about the first power-play unit, and the Flyers' two anemic power-play attempts in the first period. He said, "We needed to be better, obviously. I kind of had the feeling that was going to bite us in the ass after the game."
Then, he said, "We were kind of one and done, not even that sometimes."
One and done. True fact: The Flyers did not have a single shot on goal in Game 5 on a rebound, not one. And while that was the worst they've been in that category - it is hard to be worse than zero - they have been lacking there since the series began. It is killing them, frankly.
Again, the Rangers deserve a bunch of credit here. Lundqvist manages the puck well and the people in front of him rarely are out of position. Nobody should have expected a picnic, and it most definitely has not been one.
But they talk about the dirty areas in hockey, and the Flyers have lost the battles in those areas. In many, many cases, they have lost the battles before they even began because they have tried to play more of a skill game than has been wise.
Listen to Flyers coach Craig Berube:
"We're not shooting the puck for a rebound, that's the key," he said. "You've got to understand, a goalie of his caliber, if you don't have a clear shot, you've got to put it on net for a rebound. It's a key play."
But it is a play that the Flyers have not made nearly enough. You can point to several good things yesterday. The Flyers were great on faceoffs in all three zones and had the puck a lot as a result. Their power play, subject of so much scorn, has begun to show a pulse. The second unit has scored in each of the last two games - although Jake Voracek, a straggler playing with the rest of the second unit, got the goal in Game 4. You also can make the argument that the first unit kind of/sort of broke through on the 6-on-5 goal that Claude Giroux scored late in the third period - it was the regular power-play unit plus defenseman Mark Streit on the ice.
There is a kernel of something there. The switching of the top line in the third period - Brayden Schenn up, Hartnell down - might have been nothing more than cosmetic. It likely is not the thing that will decide the series, however Berube plays it in Game 6.
But none of it will matter if the area adjacent to the blue paint in Lundqvist's crease is not more crowded, and productive.
"We need to make life a lot tougher for especially Lundqvist," Hartnell said.
That's it. Get rebounds or die trying.