NEW YORK - Ever since their franchise-worst 1-7 start, the Flyers became Team Catch-up.

It also happened in the playoffs. Three times they fell behind the New York Rangers in the series. Three times they caught up.

Wednesday night, in front of a frenzied enemy crowd at the World's Most Famous Arena, they ran out of comebacks.

New York Rangers 2, Flyers 1.

With the loss in Game 7 at rollicking Madison Square Garden, the Flyers' season ended like every one after 1975: without a Stanley Cup.

"Nobody in this locker room was ready to pack it in," said goalie Steve Mason, who was the game's best player but was betrayed by his defense in the second period. "It's tough to put into words right now what you feel. It's a long season and after one game - boom - it's over."

Outplayed for two periods, the Flyers came alive in the third, coming in waves at goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Rookie Jason Akeson sliced the Rangers' lead to 2-1, slapping his own right-circle rebound past Lundqvist with 15 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in regulation. Akeson gathered the rebound after Marc Staal blocked his first shot.

The Flyers applied pressure on Lundqvist for the next several minutes but couldn't get the equalizer.

"It was like we were on the penalty kill there for a while," Rangers forward Brad Richards said of the Flyers' third-period push. "It was scratch and claw and do what you could" to prevent a goal.

New York dominated the second period, outshooting the Flyers by 18-5 and taking a 2-0 lead on goals by ex-Flyer Dan Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot.

The Flyers had trouble getting out of their own end for most of the second period.

"We were just on our heels," defenseman Luke Schenn said. "You have to give them credit. They played fast and they got the momentum there off the first goal, and they pretty much had the momentum after that for the remainder of the second period."

With about four minutes left in the second period, Claude Giroux had a golden chance to cut the deficit in half. Alone in front and staring at an open net, Giroux fired over the crossbar.

"I was trying to get away from their 'D,' and I'm not sure if he got his stick on it," Giroux said. "I shot up high because the goalie was low."

The Flyers are now 9-7 in Game 7s in franchise history. New York, which will face Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division finals, improved to 7-5 in Game 7s. The Rangers are 6-0 in seventh games at the Garden.

The Flyers had seven 20-goal scorers this season, but most of those players had subpar playoff performances, primarily because of New York's speed and gifted defense.

"We didn't initiate enough and play with enough aggressiveness," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. ". . . We didn't play our best hockey."

The Flyers did a lot of good things in a scoreless first period. They had just one giveaway (four fewer than New York) and won 13 of the 18 faceoffs. They also had an 11-10 shots edge, though the Rangers had the better chances.

But they fell apart in the second period, giving Mason little support. Mason was brilliant throughout the night and was the only reason the Flyers had a chance.

"Our forwards were all over them," Staal said. "The forecheck was great, and they were turning a lot of pucks over, and we were able to get good chances off them."

Playing in a Game 7 is "what you live for," winger Wayne Simmonds, who had a hat trick in the Flyers' 5-2 win Tuesday, said before the game. "When you're young, you're playing in your driveway, always imagining a Game 7 scenario. Now this is it. This is my first Game 7."

But it became a painful Game 7 for a team that made a commendable recovery from an awful start of the season. Now the Flyers will have all summer to lament how a bad second period cost them a chance to face a Pittsburgh team they dominated this season.

"At the beginning of the year, everyone went through a lot here," said Akeson, who spent most of the season in the minors. "To come this far, no one really expected it in the first part of the season. These guys have a lot of character in this room, and I'm sure we'll be back."

"We're a young team . . . and this is only going to make us stronger," Giroux said.