PHILADELPHIA — Nobody in the visitor’s locker room wanted to use Chris Kreider’s injury as the reason why the Rangers seemed to crumble in the second half of their 5-2 loss to the Flyers on Friday night at Wells Fargo Center.
Honestly, though, how could the loss of the team’s first-line left wing and emotional leader not have been a key factor in the Rangers’ first loss since Feb. 16?
Kreider, who on Monday beat the clock when he signed a seven-year, $45.5 million contract extension that kept him in a Rangers uniform past the NHL trade deadline, suffered a broken foot when he blocked a shot in the first period.
And the Rangers, who led 1-0 at the time, allowed five straight goals to put an end to their five-game winning streak and their club-record nine-game road winning streak. They remained two points out of the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot, failing to take advantage of losses by the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes but not losing any ground, either.
“You lose one of your top forwards, one of your older guys, who’s a veteran, who means a lot to us,’’ coach David Quinn said. “It hurts, but I liked how we responded. We lost him midway through the first and we kept playing, and played well throughout the second till the second goal . . .
“Listen, we’ve played very good hockey lately. The way things have been going for us on the road, we were bound to lose eventually. We weren’t going to go undefeated the rest of the season, but it was a tough game for us in a lot of ways.’’
The Rangers, who will face the Flyers again Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, preferred to spin this one as just a bad game after a long stretch of good games in which they won nine of 10 and 12 of 15.
“It’s not good, but look at this whole month. We’ve been playing really good hockey, really been stepping up,’’ Mika Zibanejad said. “And we’ve just got to make sure this game doesn’t ruin what we’ve built up this month. It’s one game. And we’ve been doing a lot of good things over a longer period of time, and we’ve just got to make sure this doesn’t ruin that and just move on. Aim to get better on Sunday.’’
Just looking at Zibanejad’s face, though, it was hard to believe he wasn’t shaken by the loss of Kreider, his linemate and close friend.
“It’s tough,’’ he said. “I don’t know how to put it into words, really. Obviously, [he’s] a key player and a key guy in the locker room and on the ice — for our line and the rest of the team.’’
Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who started for the third straight game with Igor Shesterkin out with a broken rib suffered in a car accident on Sunday, made 35 saves. But he allowed five straight goals after Jesper Fast gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 2:49 of the first period.
Sean Couturier scored at 16:07 of the first period to tie it and the Flyers also got goals from James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux (who scored twice) and former Ranger Kevin Hayes. The Rangers’ Brett Howden got one back with 25.3 seconds left in the third period.
Quinn pointed to van Riemsdyk’s goal, off a rebound at 13:00 of the second period, as the turning point, as opposed to the Kreider injury.
“I thought we really got deflated after that,’’ Quinn said. “They were very opportunistic. They played well. Give them a ton of credit . . . I just thought after that we lost a little bit of our mojo. We looked like we got a little bit deflated.’’
Giroux got his first goal 2:05 later to make it 3-1. He scored a power-play goal at 2:36 of the third period to make it 4-1 and put the Flyers firmly in control.