Series tied 2-2
One team will be heading back to Philadelphia on the brink of elimination. Will it be the Flyers or Rangers? We’ll find out after the two Metropolitan Division rivals square off in Game 5 Sunday afternoon.
Puck drop is set for 12 p.m. at Madison Square Garden. The game will be televised on NBC.
Here are five things you need to know:
1. Hal you doing?
The Flyers have a hole to fill on their blue line. Shot blocking extraordinaire Nicklas Grossmann will not play in Game 5 after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 4 on Friday. He went down awkwardly on his right knee in the second period of the Flyers’ 2-1 win and needed some assistance to get off the ice.
Head coach Craig Berube wouldn’t say who would play in Grossmann’s place, but it sure looks like veteran defenseman Hal Gill will suit up. Gill, who skated alongside Mark Streit during practice Saturday, appeared in just six games in the regular season, but he is mentally and physically ready to go.
“This is what I’ve been working to do,” Gill said (see story). “I’ve had it in my head over and over again. It’d be nice to have it come to fruition on Sunday. We’ve got a guy banged up. ... If he can’t play, that’s what I’ve been working for.”
Gill signed on as the Flyers’ seventh defenseman after an impressive camp this past summer. He’s served as a leader in the locker room and hasn’t uttered a single complaint about his lack of game action all season long. At one point, he sat 44 consecutive games, but when his number was called he filled in admirably.
The 39-year-old is not flashy by any means. He plays a simple, hard-nosed style of hockey and -- like Grossmann -- hits hard and blocks shots. He won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and has appeared in 110 postseason contests over 16 NHL seasons. Simply put, Gill knows what it takes to win.
2. Mase in your face
When the playoffs roll around, you’ll see a goalie steal a game every once and awhile. That’s exactly what Steve Mason did for the Flyers on Friday.
Mason was sensational in Game 4, turning aside 37 shots en route to his first-ever postseason victory. He was tested early and often by the Rangers and was sharp despite making his first start in nearly two weeks.
Now the Flyers need to help their netminder out. They’ve mustered only eight goals through the first four games of the series and haven’t looked comfortable when setting up in their offensive zone.
That’s partially because of how well the Rangers have played defensively. They’ve been getting sticks in the shooting and passing lanes constantly. Getting to the middle of the ice away hasn’t even been an option for the Flyers. A Ranger has been there to greet them every time they try to cut in.
It’s time for the Flyers’ offense to adapt and find a way to give Henrik Lundqvist a true challenge. Mason can only carry the team for so long. He proved rust was not an issue and battled hard in Game 4. But the Flyers can’t afford to let the Rangers fire at will on Mason again, regardless of how confident he looked in the previous game.
3. The unsung heroes
A lot has been made of the Flyers’ power-play struggles during this opening-round series. They looked much better on the man advantage in Game 4 and even got the game-winning goal on the PP from Jakub Voracek.
But the tremendous play of two of the Flyers’ best penalty killers has gone largely unnoticed. The Flyers have been shorthanded 20 times through the first four games of the series. Thanks to the smart and consistent play from Sean Couturier and Matt Read, the Flyers have yielded just three goals while a man down.
Couturier and Read have brought a disciplined, defense-first approach to the game all season long. They’ve also been able to contribute offensively on occasion. In the series against New York, Couturier and Read have meshed well with rookie Jason Akeson. The trio has accounted for a goal in each of the Flyers’ wins and has arguably been the team’s best line defensively as well. It doesn’t look like they’re going to slow down anytime soon either.
4. Captain Claude
If you look at Claude Giroux’s stats for the series, you might assume the Flyers’ captain has been a non-factor. That just shows stats can be deceiving.
Sure, Giroux has just two assists and four shots on goal through four games, but he is making his presence felt elsewhere. Giroux is the leader in the series in faceoff percentage, winning 60.3 percent of his draws. And he’s also posted a plus-3 rating.
We all know about Giroux’s slow start to the regular season. He rebounded from that to finish third in the NHL in scoring with 86 points. The offense hasn’t been there for him in the postseason yet. But he’s still making an impact. If he can get on the scoresheet, however, the Rangers could have a problem on their hands.
5. This and that
• The Flyers are 34-25 all time in Game 5 of a playoff series.
• The Rangers are 0 for 8 on the power play over the last two games.
• Kimmo Timonen, Zac Rinaldo, Couturier and Grossmann are the only four Flyers who have yet to register a point in the series.
• The Rangers’ top line of Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan has combined for 51 shots in four games.
• The Flyers were charged with 13 giveaways in Game 4. Voracek had four.