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Thrown to the fire, Gill gets burned

Flyers defenseman Hal Gill replaced injured Nick Grossman, and was on the ice for two Rangers goals.

Flyers goalie Steve Mason and defenseman Hal Gill. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Flyers goalie Steve Mason and defenseman Hal Gill. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

NEW YORK - The series was tied after four games. Momentum was switching hands like New York cabdrivers change lanes.

First Rangers, then Flyers. Then Rangers again after Game 3, then back to the Flyers thanks to Steve Mason in Game 4.

But then the first significant injury occurred, a lower-body ailment to Nick Grossman in the middle of Game 4 that sure looks like a knee. An opportunity opened that was bound to go a couple of different ways.

Either the player Craig Berube picked as a replacement would fill in for Grossman seamlessly and the Flyers would steal Game 5, or the Rangers would pounce like a cheetah on an injured gazelle.

Score one for the cheetah.

Berube tapped the shoulder of veteran defenseman Hal Gill, a playoff stalwart in his day but mostly a healthy scratch this season, to fill in for Grossmann. It was either Gill, a former Stanley Cup winner who turned 39 this month, or 25-year-old Erik Gustafsson, who has played in seven postseason games in his career. The coach went with the veteran.

Gill was on the ice yesterday for two of the goals as the Rangers built a three-zip lead and held on for a 4-2 win in Game 5 of this series. The goal that made it 3-0 was particularly disconcerting for Flyers followers.

Braydon Coburn, a similarly large defenseman, was being bothered by pesky Rangers forward Dominic Moore and shoveled an awkward pass toward Gill as Moore's pressure backed the three players into the Flyers' defensive blue line.

"It kind of went through his [skates]," Coburn said. "It was kind of a bad bounce, you know?"

Not for Moore, who quickly seized the miscue and fired the puck past Steve Mason for a 3-0 Rangers lead.

"When you're in the playoffs and you make a little mistake, it costs you," Gill said. "That's what I like about it and sometimes that's what sucks about it."

Gill, also on the ice for a Brad Richards goal, contributed one shot on goal.

The Flyers are not down 3-2 in this series because of Hal Gill, but they're not up in it, either. A hole in a hockey team's defense is like a football team playing backup offensive linemen. Remember Winston Justice in 2007?

"He was fine," said Berube, who put Gill right back out there for his very next shift. "I know the [Moore] goal there, but it just was a missed pass. It went off a skate."

It's hard to blame Berube because had he gone with Gustafsson, and Gustafsson had been exposed, it would have been a rerun of the 2008 playoffs when young defensemen Lasse Kukkonen and Ryan Parent were forced to play against the Penguins when Coburn and Kimmo Timonen went down.

Depth on the blue line in the postseason often is as crucial as gas in the Zamboni. Grossmann will not play in Game 6, so Berube has another decision to make.

"It's a fast game. It's a hard game," Gill said. "You make a little mistake and they'll make you pay for it. They're a good team. They force you to make plays and we've got to execute. We're going back home and we can make plays back home and maybe push the pace on them."