March 02, 2023
For the better part of Wednesday night, the Wells Fargo Center felt like Madison Square Garden South.
Rangers blue was everywhere and so were the "Let's go, Rangers!" and "IGOR" chants despite the Philly faithful's every attempt to drown them out with boos.
All the while, the Flyers battled but ultimately lost to a shorthanded – though more talented – New York squad, 3-2, in overtime as the crowd erupted... for Vladimir Tarasenko's game-winner.
A bitter rival, who spent big the past couple of weeks with clear Stanley Cup aspirations, came into Philadelphia and took over the arena.
It was a scene that painted a brutal picture of where the Flyers are truly at as the clock continues to tick down toward the Friday trade deadline.
But all they can really do at this point is own it.
"We make our own bed," head coach John Tortorella said. "We need to get this in the right direction where maybe someday those tickets are hard to come by.
"Don’t blame anybody else. Blame us. This is what we’ve made here. Hopefully, along the way, we get this turned around. I’m not sure when, but get it back to where that’s a tough ticket, and maybe the Ranger fans just aren’t allowed in the building because we have filled it with our people. Not there yet obviously.
"I’m not blaming the fans. I’m not blaming anybody else except us in the organization. We make our own bed here, and where we’re at. It’s up to us to get out of it."
It's going to be a process to build this team back up, as Tortorella said earlier in the week and has been saying all season.
But it's going to be a long one, and especially right now, a painful one.
That isn't to say Wednesday night's game was without any merit for the Flyers, however.
After a 2-7-1 stretch through February, capped off by completely demoralizing blowouts from the Canadiens and then the Devils in back-to-back games, the Flyers did keep up with the Rangers through regulation and were a step ahead of them at times even.
After a ruthlessly efficient New York power play struck early, Owen Tippett tied it late in the first with Philly on the man advantage and overall played like a man possessed, generating scoring chances all night with a team-leading 27:40 of ice time – thanks in part to the lineup rolling out seven d-men. He just couldn't slip the rest of them home.
"I think if he hits the net, he has maybe one or two more," Tortorella said. "You could sense he was free, he was playing. He was looking at me wanting to play more. I’ve said it to you all year long it’s an encouraging sign with that kid as far as what he’s going to be for this team."
Scott Laughton, skating just shy of 20 minutes himself, gave the Flyers the lead midway through the second when he snuck out from down low in the left corner and roofed the puck just over the shoulder of Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin. It was Laughton's 14th goal of the season, one that set a new career high and, in the moment, gave the arena some of its orange and black energy again.
Then, keeping the Rangers at bay, was Carter Hart standing on his head. Like the rest of the team, the past month has been a rough stretch for the 24-year old starter, but on Wednesday night, he put up a performance that more than gave them a chance.
The Rangers, with the advantage and speed and skill, did well in cycling the puck and threading passes that got Hart moving post-to-post.
More often than not, those plays leave a goaltender dead to rights, but Hart's anticipation and reads were excellent as he fought off a number of dangerous scoring opportunities – with thanks from his teammates generally doing a good job of stepping into shooting lanes too.
He just couldn't hold off the Rangers forever though.
At the halfway mark of the third, Tarasenko just threw a shot on net from the point and Chris Kreider got enough of the puck to redirect and leave Hart unable to track it to knot the score, 2-2.
Then in overtime, even though New York was down K'Andre Miller (suspension) and Ryan Lindgren (injury) while waiting for Patrick Kane's arrival, the two teams' difference in talent was clear. Tarasenko just cut right through everyone and won it.
Hart made 22 saves in total for the night but missed just one too many for the win.
"It just kind of goes under I think [Rasmus Ristolainen's] stick," Hart said. "Is what it is. He makes the shot and that’s the game."
James van Riemsdyk's on the trading block, and so are other heavily rumored names like Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, Nick Seeler, and Ivan Provorov.
But no one was held out Wednesday night. Everyone played with Friday's 3 p.m. trade deadline only looming larger.
In the locker room after, on if this could've been his last game as a Flyer, van Riemsdyk said: "Yeah definitely, potentially, it’s obviously been a little bit of a stressful last few days coming into this, and obviously the uncertainty around it. You just try to prepare yourself the best you can."
"I thought, again, the extra days, body felt good and stuff like that, but definitely a little bit stressful for sure. You try to just play your game though and go from there."
Things are still quiet on the Flyers' front as of around noon on Thursday. The team took the ice for practice out in Voorhees, and per multiple beats, everyone is out there.
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