PHILADELPHIA — In the moments after they broke a three-game losing streak with Sunday’s win over the undermanned Ducks, all the Rangers talked about was how much they needed to follow that up by beating the Flyers on Monday night in the final game before the Christmas break.
“It’s big,’’ coach David Quinn said after Sunday’s game. “We can’t hide from how big this game is. We want to make the playoffs; we’re talking about setting goals for ourselves making the playoffs. This is a big game.’’
It was big, all right. That was easy to tell by all the blank stares in the visiting locker room after the Rangers were carved up in a four-goal third period by the Flyers in a 5-1 loss at Wells Fargo Center.
Old pal Kevin Hayes’ top-corner snipe at 7:31 of the period snapped a 1-1 tie, and the former Ranger added a second goal as the Flyers sent the Blueshirts into the leaguewide three-day break with a 17-15-4 record.
Their 38 points are eight away from the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They return to action Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Garden.
Quinn was asked if the loss hurt more because of the damage it did to the quest for a playoff spot. “Yeah, it does,’’ he said. “And it should. It should hurt.’’
Carter Hart made 34 saves for the Flyers (21-11-5), who moved past the Penguins into third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Hayes, who played nearly five seasons for the Rangers before being traded at the deadline last February to the Jets — for Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick that was returned to Winnipeg in the Jacob Trouba trade over the summer — naturally was jacked up to play against his former team, according to Flyers coach Alain Vigneault, the former Rangers coach.
“He’s been wound up about this game for a while,’’ Vigneault said. “I know that it meant a lot to him. He’s a very emotional young man and he scored two very big goals for us today.’’
Hayes was traded by the Rangers because he was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent over the summer. Winnipeg traded him to the Flyers for a fifth-round pick in the draft, and Hayes then signed a seven-year, $50 million contract with the Flyers to play for Vigneault.
“I played there for five years,’’ Hayes said. “If it was early on in the year, it would probably be a little different, but we’re almost 40 games in. This [Philly] is my team here, and it’s nice to get the win. I’m sure I’ll text those [Rangers] guys after, but yeah, that stuff doesn’t mean anything.’’
Henrik Lundqvist, who was in net for Sunday’s 5-1 win over Anaheim at the Garden, got the start against the Flyers and allowed five goals on 30 shots.
Quinn decided to start the 37-year-old because he saw only 20 shots Sunday and because he had a tremendous record when playing in back-to-back games.
Lundqvist had played both ends of a back-to-back 85 times. His record in the second game had been 54-23-8, with a 2.12 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and nine shutouts.
And he looked sharp before allowing the first of Travis Sanheim’s two goals, a shot from the top of the circle that went through traffic and went off Lundqvist’s stick with 1.7 seconds left in the second period.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead at 6:44 of the second on Jesper Fast’s shorthanded goal, the Rangers’ eighth of the season.
The Flyers’ Ivan Provorov lost the puck at the Rangers’ blue line and Greg McKegg picked it up and started a rush. McKegg centered the puck to Brady Skjei, who rang a backhand shot off the crossbar. Skjei retrieved the rebound in the right corner and threw a pass to Fast in the slot.