The final game of the regular season felt more like Game 7 of a playoff series. Win and advance; lose and go home.
The Flyers earned the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and will play either Buffalo or New Jersey.
The Rangers forced what was essentially a one-game playoff when they beat the Flyers on Friday night. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was sensational, but Matt Carle tied the game at 1 early in the third period.
Lundqvist was stellar in goal, stopping 46 shots from every angle from Philadelphia. The Flyers outshot the Rangers by a 2-1 margin for most of the game, but could never slip the puck past the goalie coach John Tortorella expected to carry them into the postseason.
Jody Shelley came close to haunting the Flyers for a long summer. He hadn’t scored all season until he got one in Friday’s 4-3 win that pushed the Rangers to the brink of the postseason.
Shelley struck again and quieted a rowdy crowd when he scored only 3:27 into Sunday’s game. He deflected a shot from the point past a stunned Boucher for a 1-0 lead.
That’s the way it stood — and felt like it would stand with the way Lundqvist played.
The mood at the Wachovia Center was just like a playoff game from the warmups.
The crowd roared when Lauren Hart, the daughter of longtime former Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart, sang “God Bless America,” alternating lyrics with Kate Smith, who was on a video image. Smith’s rendition of the song has been a rallying anthem for the Flyers since the mid 1970s.
The Flyers ended a pregame video with a simple message: “Today We Clinch!”
They did. All they needed was three periods, overtime, a thrilling shootout in the 82nd game.
Lundqvist made the 1-0 lead stand until early in the third. Briere’s shot from the circle bounced off the goalie and Jeff Carter poked the rebound to Matt Carle for his sixth goal of the season and a 1-1 score.
The Flyers were pegged as preseason Stanley Cup favorites until a series of injuries in goal nearly cost them the postseason. Coach Peter Laviolette couldn’t turn them into consistent winners once he took over for the fired John Stevens in December. They all get a chance at putting an underachieving regular season behind them starting this week.
As good as Lundqvist was, he didn’t get it done in the shootout.
The Rangers head home after a strong run to end the season. Their three-week run wasn’t enough and they’ll miss the postseason for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
NOTES: Flyers D Chris Pronger was selected team MVP and most outstanding defenseman. Defenseman Carle was most improved and Ian Laperriere was voted the Flyer who best illustrates character, dignity and respect for the sport both on and off the ice. Laperriere also won the Gene Hart Memorial Award, given to the player who demonstrated the most “heart” this season.