|Flyers hope to continue ascent against sinking Rangers|
NEW YORK -- The ascent of the Philadelphia Flyers and the decline of the New York Rangers began immediately after their most recent game Jan. 16.
What is left of the Rangers' playoff hopes likely rests on the roles beginning to reverse themselves Sunday.
A pair of Metropolitan Division rivals traveling in opposite directions will meet each other Sunday afternoon, when the last-place Rangers host the surging Flyers at Madison Square Garden.
The Flyers solidified their standing in the Eastern Conference playoff race Friday, when they edged the host Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shootout. The Rangers continued skidding Saturday, when they fell to the host Ottawa Senators 6-3.
The Flyers (29-19-10) enter Sunday with nine wins in 14 games (9-3-2) since a 5-1 loss to the Rangers on Jan. 16 dropped them into a tie for last place in the Metropolitan.
Philadelphia, which has won three of four games (3-0-1) since starting goalie Brian Elliott suffered a core muscle injury that is expected to cost him most of the rest of the regular season, enters Sunday tied for third place in the Metro with the New Jersey Devils at 68 points apiece, four points ahead of the second wild card, the New York Islanders, and five points ahead of the Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes.
The recent success has the Flyers well-prepared for a playoff chase that still has nearly two months remaining. Eight of their last nine wins have been by two goals or fewer.
"I think we're more and more comfortable in these games," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol told reporters after Friday's win. "We've won a lot of these games and our guys stay with it."
The losses are coming in rapid fashion for the Rangers (27-27-5), who have lost three straight -- all in regulation -- and 10 of 14 (4-10-0) since the win over the Flyers lifted them into a tie for the wild card Jan. 16.
Now, New York is five points behind the Islanders and sinking fast after falling behind 63 seconds into Saturday's game.
The Rangers have been outscored 12-5 over the last three games and 54-32 over the past 14.
Longtime star goalie Henrik Lundqvist gave up five goals on 27 shots Saturday before being pulled for the third time in the last eight games.
Afterward, Lundqvist had a hard time explaining his recent struggles.
"I have stretches every year where I feel like I can play better, looking for a better feeling." Lundqvist told reporters. "But I feel like I'm tracking the puck pretty good, and one-on-one, I feel pretty good. But clearly, it's not enough I'm giving up too many goals. It's just not enough right now."
Lundqvist is expected to draw the start again for the Rangers against new Flyers no. 1 goalie Michal Neuvirth, who made his fourth straight start Friday and made 35 saves in earning the win over the Blue Jackets.
Lundqvist is 35-14-4 in 55 regular season appearances against the Flyers. Neuvirth is 1-5-0 in eight games against the Rangers.