TO TINKER or not to tinker? That is the question for Craig Berube.
To begin the third period Sunday afternoon, the Flyers coach shifted Brayden Schenn to skate with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. It was the first time in months Scott Hartnell was not flanked to Giroux's left.
Yet, when Giroux scored his first goal at Madison Square Garden in more than 450 days, Schenn was on the bench with Steve Mason. Hartnell was in the middle of the ice, pulling Rangers defenders away from the Flyers' captain.
How will that impact Berube's decision-making for tonight's elimination Game 6?
"The goalie was out," Berube said. "They did a good job without the goalie and got a goal. I don't know what I'm going to do."
The truth is that both Hartnell and Schenn need a spark; neither has scored in this first-round series. Berube would not tip his hand about scratches after yesterday's skate, but he sounded like a coach who believes in the players who have gotten the Flyers to this point. He also paid credit to the Rangers' ability to take time and space away with speed, causing the Flyers to turn the puck over.
"I think it's just a mindset, more than anything," Berube said. "From the start of the game, we need to really skate and attack. We need to be a more aggressive team. If we execute [Sunday] in the first period, and we have a little bit better mindset, who knows what happens in that game?
"We need to be desperate. for sure. In playoff hockey, you need to be more desperate. We could be more desperate."
Schenn said Game 5 "left a bad feeling in your stomach," noting the Flyers sat back too much and handed the Rangers clean breaks from their own end with errant passes. He acknowledged he's put a little extra pressure on himself to perform - but if he were to skate with Giroux and Voracek, his goal would be the same as Hartnell has said all season.
"Everyone wants to make things happen," Schenn said. "But playing against a team that clogs things up, we've got to be patient and wait for chances. I think for me, they're real special players. When you play with those guys, you have to work with them, get them some space and get them the puck."
Gus or Gill?
The other pressing decision for Berube heading into Game 6: whether to sub out Erik Gustafsson for veteran Hal Gill, since regular Nick Grossmann is out with that right ankle/foot injury suffered in Game 4.
Berube said he did not know who would play tonight.
Gill, 39, was fingered for the gaffe that sent Dominic Moore in on a breakaway for what turned out to be the game-winner. Berube acknowledged, though, that Braydon Coburn made an errant pass to start the scoring sequence.
Gustafsson, 25, has appeared in fewer regular-season games (91) than Gill has skated in career playoff games (111). Gustafsson did, however, score in Game 6 against Pittsburgh in 2012 to help the Flyers knock out the Penguins.
"It would be pretty hard," Gustafsson said yesterday after practice about jumping into the series. "But I skated hard with [assistant coach Ian Laperriere] and the extra guys all year, so I'm confident I'll be ready to go. It's not the ideal situation for me.
"If I get in tomorrow, it will be pretty much the same as it was when I played against Pittsburgh 2 years ago. I know what to expect. I'm probably not as nervous as I was back then."
Berube said Gustafsson can "get up the ice." Gustafsson is both more fleet of foot and can move the puck quicker, for sure, but he is also easier to bump off the puck, at 5-10, compared with Gill's mammoth 6-7 frame. The decision is a tossup, since neither play has played many games recently.
Gustafsson said he was not notified yesterday whether he would be in the lineup.
"I think I just need to play my game," Gustafsson said. "Just by doing that, I think I can contribute and help the team get up the ice and get more shots on net and get some more opportunities in front of [Rangers goalie Henrik] Lundqvist. Just by doing that, I think that will be enough."
As the Flyers attempt to make it back to level ground in their series tonight, they will be doing so in the "Year of the Comeback" in the NHL. Through Sunday night's action, there have been 27 comeback wins in 41 Stanley Cup playoff contests - a whopping 66 percent.
Anaheim recorded the 10th multigoal comeback of the first round (24.4 percent), when there were only eight in the entire 2013 postseason. The Ducks were the fifth team since the 1977 Flyers to rally from a multigoal deficit in the final 2:10 of the third period - the Flyers were the first to do so on April 17, 1977, when their rally started with 1:49 remaining to go on to win, 6-5, over Toronto in overtime.
Interestingly, through Sunday, there have been six game-tying goals scored in the final 2 minutes of regulation this spring. The team to score the tying goal has gone on to win all six games.