The stench of manure was still wafting — until the third period on Sunday night.
The Rangers looked to be on the verge of another colossal letdown against another club competing in meaningless games, echoing the abysmal performance against the Islanders two nights earlier that head coach Gerard Gallant compared to horses–t.
But a three-goal surge in the third period forced overtime and earned the Rangers a point in a game that was otherwise out of hand to the Flyers, who ultimately won it in a shootout behind former Blueshirt Kevin Hayes’ lone goal in the skills competition at Madison Square Garden.
“That was a really good comeback by us in the third,” said Andrew Copp, who scored the game-tying tally off a backhanded feed from Artemi Panarin at 15:40 of the third period. “We started playing better in the second, I think. Obviously, the first shift in the third didn’t go our way. But it seems like there’s a lot of belief.
“We feel like we’re a really good team, and really good teams can come back in games like that. Even though we didn’t get the extra point at the end, I think the confidence gained from the way we played in the last two periods and being able to come back from something like that — which is going to happen in the playoffs, for sure, in my experience, I’ve seen it a lot. Being able to stop the momentum going the other way and turn it in our favor.”
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The Rangers have been able to bounce back from tough games more often than not this season, but it wasn’t until the final 20 minutes of this one that the sense of urgency kicked in. Scoring three times, two goals coming in the span of 12 seconds, the Rangers charged their way back into the game at the 11th hour behind goals from Panarin, Copp and Mika Zibanejad.
At a point in the season when teams in playoff position should be ramping up their play for the first round, the Rangers haven’t been able to do so as of late. It was their rallying nature, which has defined them all season, that somewhat salvaged this game.
“We made some bad mistakes,” Gallant said after the shootout loss, which dropped the Rangers to 44-20-6. “We didn’t give them a whole lot of chances, but we give them grade-A breakaways, two-on-ones and that’s what really hurt us tonight.
“I thought we played a pretty good game overall, besides giving them seven or eight breakaways, couple two-on-ones. If it wasn’t for those plays we would’ve had a perfect game, but you can’t win hockey games playing loose like that — and we almost found a way.”
After Flyers center Joel Farabee made it 3-0 just 44 seconds into the third, the Rangers ended their scoring drought at five straight periods dating back to their ugly 3-0 loss to the Isles on Friday. Panarin got a stick on a Jacob Trouba shot to make it a two-goal game at 1:22 of the final frame, and the Rangers clawed their way back from there.
Goalie Igor Shesterkin, who finished with 23 saves, turned aside all four Flyers shots in overtime. But Hayes lobbed the puck right over Shesterkin’s shoulder to secure the shootout victory for Philadelphia.
“I think it’s just a lesson that we’re going to have to learn,” Copp said. “Throughout the course of the playoffs, you’re going to have games that you don’t like. … Maybe you like your game more than we did the other night, but losses feel heavier in the playoffs. Being able to reset ourselves mentally and just kind of clear our head and be ready for the next game, whoever does that best wins the Stanley Cup at the end of the day.
“Doesn’t let one loss turn into two or two into three, it’s who can reset their mind the best and come in with a clean late and a lot of confidence.”