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Loss eliminates Flyers from playoff contention

NEW YORK - Back in December, when they had a 10-game winning streak, it seemed inconceivable that the Flyers would not be playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

NEW YORK - Back in December, when they had a 10-game winning streak, it seemed inconceivable that the Flyers would not be playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But three-plus months of inconsistent play caught up with them, and they were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday night with a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"We had our good pockets" of play, "but our bad pockets have been too long," general manager Ron Hextall said before the Flyers' four-game winning streak ended Sunday.

The Flyers are the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs during a season in which they had a 10-game winning streak. They will not be playing in the postseason for the second time in three years - and the third time in five years.

"We had a lot of opportunities this year to get some points; there were some tight games in the third period and we weren't able to get it done," captain Claude Giroux said. "I think it happened too often, and that's why we're in the situation we're in now."

"You can't be good until December, and then win one, lose one," winger Brayden Schenn said.

The most interesting part of the Flyers' final three games: watching recently signed center Mike Vecchione, who could make his NHL debut Tuesday in New Jersey.

Oscar Lindberg, taking advantage of a Michael Del Zotto turnover, scored on his own rebound to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes, 59 seconds left, securing the win. A little over two minutes later, Chris Kreider made it 4-1 by redirecting a shot past rookie goalie Anthony Stolarz, who had no chance.

With Stolarz pulled for an extra attacker, Schenn cut it to 4-2 with 2:06 to play. Valtteri Filppula (two goals) made it a 4-3 game with 1:15 left.

With the Flyers having a six-on-four advantage, Henrik Lundqvist made a great glove save on Giroux's ticketed one-timer with 13.9 seconds remaining.

There would be no miracle comeback.

"We never quit. We're a character team that's going to push to the end," rookie winger Travis Konecny said.

The Rangers ended an eight-game home losing streak, recording their first win at the Garden since a 2-1 victory over Washington on Feb. 19.

"It's nice to change the karma," Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith said.

Stolarz, who at 6-foot-6 is the tallest goalie in Flyers history, took some eye-opening numbers into the night: a 1.42 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage in his first five NHL appearances this season.

"He's made a nice step," coach Dave Hakstol said prior to the opening faceoff. "Just looking at his presence and his poise, from his body of work in practice to the minutes he's had in games, his play has been solid. I think we've seen a step forward in his development from a year ago, and obviously that's what you hope to see in a young player."

The Rangers scored two goals in a 3:13 span to take a 2-1 second-period lead.

Mats Zuccarello and defenseman Smith worked a slick give-and-go to put the Rangers ahead, 2-1, with 12:50 left in the second. Smith sped past Konecny and Brandon Manning before lifting a backhander high into the net. A delayed penalty had been called on the Flyers during a sequence before Smith's goal.

A little over three minutes earlier, Mika Zibanejad knotted the score at 1-1 on a power-play goal. From above the left circle, Zibanejad's shot went over Stolarz's right shoulder to the short side.

Just 33 seconds into the second, the Flyers had taken a brief 1-0 lead as Filppula scored on a backhander from the slot. Jordan Weal set up the goal, giving him points in five straight games.

As for the season, the Flyers have been the definition of mediocrity. They entered the night tied for 20th (out of 30 teams) in both goals scored and goals allowed. They were 11th on the power play, but had been No. 1 in the NHL on Dec. 10, and their penalty kill was just 22nd.

On the positive side, young players such as Ivan Provorov, Konency, Weal, and (in limited duty) Stolarz made strides, and there are several prospects in the system who are knocking on the NHL door, including defensemen Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim, and left winger Oskar Lindblom.