Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
PHILADELPHIA - The Rangers will want to take their skates off before watching the video of Game 4. Don't want to kick yourself with a skate blade, after all.
All the Rangers are sure to be kicking themselves after this 2-1 loss that evened their series with the Flyers at 2-2. This was somewhat similar to Game 2, when the Rangers outplayed Philly for long stretches but made a handful of mistakes to cost them a shot at a 2-0 series edge.
Friday night at Wells Fargo Center was worse, though. Worse because a 3-1 series lead, with what easily could have been two wins on the Flyers' ice, would have been as close to a stranglehold as the Rangers have had for many a playoff season.
And worse because of who was making nearly all the saves in the Flyers' net. Game 4 was Steve Mason's long-awaited series debut. Philadelphia's top goaltender had missed the first three games with an upper-body injury, and the Rangers made Ray Emery look like a backup in two of them.
But Mason was hardly rusty as the Rangers threw pucks on him from all angles. His Philly teammates played just about all of Game 4 as if they were just learning Craig Berube's system. The lopsided first period featured at least three Rangers odd-man rushes on simple breakouts and most Flyers handing the puck away.
That first period ended 1-1, though, thanks to Mason and to the Rangers' inability to pounce. Mats Zuccarello had a deflection on a two-on-one in the opening minute. Dan Carcillo, who scored a rather unlikely late goal in Game 3, had two juicy rebounds but couldn't untangle himself from the Flyers in front of Mason, who had 15 saves in the first and 37 for the game.
"In my estimation, we should have been up after that first period," Alain Vigneault said.
The power play, which converted so crisply in the third period of Game 1, is 1-for-17 since the Rangers scored on both ends of a four-minute power play in the opener. It's hard to fault any individual Ranger for his performance Friday night, but the power play was inert, especially when it mattered most at the start of the third period.
That was a four-on-three for a 1:12 stretch to open the third, with the Flyers already down a defenseman when Nicklas Grossmann left in the second with a leg injury. Score there to even the game up and the Flyers are forced to keep skating and keep playing aggressively rather than just surviving with their depleted roster.
Instead, the foursome on to start the third -- Brad Richards, Marty St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan -- moved the puck around the perimeter and didn't get off a shot until it was a five-on-four.
"Our power play is about execution . . . It needs to be better," Vigneault said. "We had some good looks, but at this time of the year, you need more than good looks. You need to execute."
The Flyers fans were energized by that kill and by Mason's return. The rest of the Flyers may not have played as if they were happy to have Mason back, unless they wanted him to save their series hopes early and often, but now they have their top goaltender and a best-of-three series to go.
The Rangers could have had total control. Instead, they are even, headed back to the Garden for a pivotal Game 5 and facing a team that now has confidence when it should have been feeling defeated.
"We played good enough to win," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said, "but we need to be better."
Hearing that is enough to make you kick yourself.