VOORHEES, N.J. -- Wednesday’s game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden is “huge.”
Steve Mason said it. Vinny Lecavalier said it. Wayne Simmonds did, too. And so did Claude Giroux.
After Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the Flyers slipped into third place in the Metropolitan Division behind the Rangers, who now lead them by a point.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Flyers would face the Rangers. They don’t, obviously, but when the postseason kicks off in three weeks, odds are, we will see a Flyers-Rangers first-round matchup.
And finally, Wednesday’s game is a chance for the Flyers to win the season series against their rivals to the north, something they haven’t done since 2010-11 (they won four of the teams’ six meetings that season). The Flyers lead the current series 2-1.
“Every game’s big, but when you play a [divisional rival] and a team that you’re fighting for second place, that makes it even more important,” Lecavalier said. “I think everybody knows what’s at stake, and how big every point is.”
Of course, it won’t be easy. The Flyers haven’t won in New York since Feb. 20, 2011, a 4-2 victory. They lost at Madison Square Garden earlier this season, 4-1. It was one of their rougher outings of the year, made more difficult simply because the Garden is an imposing place to play.
“It’s a tough building,” Giroux said. “I don’t know what it is about it. We’ll have to make sure the first period’s our best period, and we’re just going to go from there.”
In Monday’s loss to the Kings, the Flyers finally let a pattern of playing incomplete games catch up to them. They lacked effort through the first 40 minutes, and despite a valiant third-period attempt, weren’t able to complete a comeback.
As Jakub Voracek said after the loss, if they played like that in New York, they could easily have lost 5-0. With the standings so tight (only four points separate them from playoff exclusion), they can’t afford any kind of losing streak right now.
“When we played in New York, I don’t think we were ready when we went into Madison Square Garden,” Simmonds said. “They came out flying. We really didn’t have an answer. We put together stretches in that game, but we didn’t play a complete game.
“At home it was completely different. We played two strong, structured games, and I think we’ve got to keep that mentality when we go into New York tomorrow.”
Simply put, Simmonds said, the Flyers need to “set a tone.” They fell back on their heels for too much of Monday’s game, and are well aware that doing so against the Rangers will yield similar results.
“We’ve got to establish the forecheck,” coach Craig Berube said. “We need a good forecheck game tomorrow. We’ve got to get pucks in deep and get physical with them and make it a hard game. When we’re a successful team, that’s what we do.”
The Rangers, especially with the addition of Martin St. Louis, are a balanced team much like the Kings and St. Louis Blues. They can roll four lines, they block a lot of shots and can frustrate their opposition. The Flyers need to be ready for a tough game -- much like every game they’ve played the past week has been.
The good news is, they’re prepared for it. So long as they can put Monday’s rough outing behind them, the Flyers feel as though their difficult stretch since the Olympic break came to an end and has set them up to succeed against any opponent.
“It’s good to play good teams,” Giroux said. “You get better. You learn from those teams. Playing teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis, they do a lot of good things out there that you can learn from.
“I think we’re a better team than when we started playing against those teams.”