PHILADELPHIA -- The Rangers will embrace this little breather now, take a little time to rest and enjoy Christmas at the end of a hectic stretch of hockey - 18 games over the last 34 days. But the disappointment at the end of that 18th game was plain to see in the visitors' dressing room at Wells Fargo Center, because they couldn't hit that Christmas break on a high note on a night when for a long time it looked as though they were on the path there.
Jesper Fast scored the Rangers' latest shorthanded goal to grab the first lead of what up to that point was a special-teams game, and Henrik Lundqvist was working on a shutout just a hair's breadth away from second intermission - 1.7 seconds away, to be exact, which is how much remained when Travis Sanheim scored for Philadelphia to send the teams back into their rooms locked in a tie game.
Sanheim scored again in the third period, and Kevin Hayes also scored twice in the third, and the Rangers slipped to a 5-1 defeat on Monday night in their first meeting this season with the Flyers, and the last game before a three-day holiday hiatus that has another back-to-back set waiting on the other side.
"It's very disappointing, that's for sure," said Lundqvist, who had allowed just a single goal over five periods in two days until Sanheim got a bounce off a Ranger stick in the dying embers of the second. "We did a lot of good things, and that tying goal late second, it was tough, but we had a good focus going into the third, kept doing a lot of good things.
"But I think it's been a trend lately: When we feel like we have to score a goal when we fall behind, we start taking chances a little too much in my opinion. And it's been hurting us a few games now."
The goaltender was not alone in that opinion. "I liked a lot of the things we did - we played a good first, a good second, and I liked our third until we just shot ourselves in the foot," said David Quinn, whose team lost in regulation for only the second time in their last nine road games (5-2-2).
Quinn was similarly ambivalent about the Rangers' special teams, given the fact that while their penalty kill has emerged not just as a stopper but as a weapon, the power play has struggled lately, and what he and the Blueshirts were truly lamenting on Monday night was their 0-for-4 evening on man-advantages, including a first-period 5-on-3 lasting 1:04.
"Our penalty kill was great, and we get the shorthanded goal," Quinn said. "But when you have a 5-on-3 you have to score."
There also was the issue of Carter Hart, Philadelphia's 21-year-old goaltender who all season long has been pedestrian at best in road games and next to unbeatable on home ice. Hart made 34 saves, perhaps his best two coming at the end of the first period when he committed larceny on Adam Fox twice in succession. He made five stops on Artemi Panarin and four on Zibanejad - who also banged one off the post in a one-goal game in the third - as both players saw their point streaks snapped.
Hart won for the seventh straight time at home and improved to 11-1-2 in Philadelphia.
Fast caught him out of position for the shorthanded goal 6:44 into the second, after Greg McKegg jumped on an Ivan Provorov whiff at the Ranger line and led a three-man rush the other way. After Skjei's backhander hit Hart and the post, the blueliner - whose own point streak reached three games - collected his own rebound and made a calm and heady play over to Fast, whose one-timer just had to be on net.
It was the Rangers' second shorthanded goal in as many days, and their eighth of the season, tying them with the Hurricanes (who also scored shorthanded on Monday) for the League lead. The Rangers have now scored one more shorthanded goal than they did all of last season.
But with one last gasp before second intermission, Sanheim stepped up in the Rangers' zone and let one fly that took a tip off a Ranger stick on its way in, allowing it to trickle through Lundqvist with that 1.7 on the clock.
Even so, "we came in and it was really positive in here," Chris Kreider said. "Going into the third period 1-1 on the road, it's pretty good spot to be in."
"I thought even in the third we did a lot of good things, and it's 1-1 and we've got some great chances, good zone time, and then we just made it too easy for them," Quinn said. "We sell out for offense too much."
Hayes broke the tie with the wrister off a rush 7:31 into the final period, and not long after Zibanejad had Hart beat with his own wrist shot that clanged off the post, Sanheim followed up Lundqvist's stop of a Sean Couturier break-in to make it 3-1. "That's when we got demoralized, and reality sets in," Quinn said.
The Rangers had brought a six-game winning streak against Metropolitan Division into this game; they'll see another division opponent at the end of the break when the Carolina Hurricanes come to Madison Square Garden on Friday night, followed by a visit to Toronto on Saturday.
"These divisional games, they're four-point games. But we play 82," Kreider said. "So we've got to forget it quickly, rebound, enjoy the couple days here, get rested and be ready to go here down the stretch."