Leave it to an ex-Devil and a former Ranger to deal New York's fading playoff hopes a serious setback.
The ex-Devil is Valeri Zelepukin, who scored two goals for the Flyers in their 3-1 win Saturday over the Rangers. The one-time New Yorker is John Vanbiesbrouck, who stopped 21 shots in goal for Philadelphia.
The loss kept the Rangers six points behind Boston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race with nine games remaining.
Vanbiesbrouck's former teammate, Adam Graves, knows the Rangers are in a desperate situation.
"Obviously we're going to need a little help, but we have to win our games," said Graves, New York's leading goal-scorer with 35.
"We haven't helped ourselves in the last week. But like anything else you keep battling," Graves said. "There's no room for being discouraged."
The win was Philadelphia's third straight, putting the Flyers within five points of Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey and two of second-place Pittsburgh. Both the Devils and Penguins tied in their games Saturday.
Zelepukin has scored eight goals in 30 career games against the Rangers, most of those in a Devils uniform. His second goal Saturday gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead 12:42 into the second period after falling behind early 1-0.
He said coach Roger Neilson asked for and more determined offensive effort
"He came out and basically old us that we needed to shoot the puck more especially from long range," Zelepukin said.
The team listened. Zelepukin's second goal, his 16th of the season, came after he battled Rangers defenseman Rich Brennan along the side of the net and slammed a rebound of a long shot by Luke Richardson past New York goalie Mike Richter.
Eight minutes earlier, Zelepukin put the Flyers on the board after a hard slap from shot six feet inside the blue line beat Richter high to the stick side.
| Things got to be quite a stretch for Mike Richter. (AP)|
"They have a couple of big men on their team, and they play at all times," said Richter, who finished with 26 saves. "They did especially a good job in the second period."
Philadelphia, which improved its physical presence after late-season deals that brought Sandy McCarthy and Craig Berube, controlled the pace for much of the final period as well. They outshot the Rangers 9-2 in the first eight minutes, including a goal by Karl Dykhuis that made it 3-1.
"One of the things I'm here for is to create space for my linemates like (Daymond) Langkow and Zelepukin," McCarthy said. "If guys are worried about me coming at them, that creates space."
The Rangers' only score came off a fluke goal by Kevin Stevens just 1:09 into the game. The wing sent a pass toward the goal that deflected into the air off a stick near the faceoff circle.
The puck landed in the crease and bounced into the net behind frozen Vanbiesbrouck for Stevens' 21st goal.
"I turned around and the next thing I saw was this black thing behind me. That was the puck," Vanbiesbrouck said.
Despite the loss, Richter said New York was still lucky to still be in the playoff hunt.
"It's not a position in some ways you want to be in but at the same time we lost the first four games of the year and we're still battling for a playoff spot," he said.
"Sooner or later somebody's eyeball is going to be lying on the ice and he (Lindros) is going to be skating around saying 'Geez, I didn't know I hit him,"' said Rangers president and general manager Neil Smith. "We've all seen him do this. How many times does he get to do it?"
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