After a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers Saturday night, the Philadelphia Flyers were facing elimination from the NHL playoffs. So, as they have done in situations far more tragic than the loss of a game, the Flyers players got together, sans coaches, and talked.

"I'd like to think we're a team of character," said captain Dave Poulin. "We have good inner strength, and we were able to draw on that."

Tonight, in front of 17,387 at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers were buried under a truckload of Flyers inner strength. The final was 7-1, which ties the Patrick Division semifinal series at 2-2 and gives the Flyers the momentum heading into Tuesday's deciding game at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

Ever since the Rangers won the first game of a series that supposedly was going to be a waltz for the Flyers, Philadelphia has been a bit on the defensive. Tonight, the Flyers were relaxed and -- led by Peter Zezel, who scored three times -- got the goals that had eluded them to this point.

"Hockey wasn't really discussed," said Rick Tocchet of the two meetings Saturday night. "It was like getting a piano off our shoulders. We said the hell with it, we'll play our game. Nobody was down; guys were joking and getting ourselves together."

Tonight, Pierre Larouche put the Rangers ahead, 1-0, at 4:15 of the first period. Could this be the end of the Flyers?


"No one let down after they scored that first goal," said Poulin, who would score the first of five second-period goals that would make the third period a waste of time. "When you get behind in a Madison Square Garden, it can be fatal. But no one let up."

And if anyone did, it certainly wasn't goalie Bob Froese. It could have been lopsided in the other direction were it not for Froese. Although Larouche did get that first goal, he, and others, had many good chances in the first period that went for naught.

"In the first 10 minutes, particularly, Bob Froese was outstanding," Flyers Coach Mike Keenan said. "It is difficult to hold up a team that had momentum from the night before and two early power plays, but Bob Froese did."

With 4:16 left in the first period, the Flyers began their rout.

Zezel slapped home a pass from Ilkka Sinisalo to tie it. With 1:24 left in the period he scored again, this time on the power play, to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead at the first intermission.

If the Rangers were dispirited by the two quick goals, they were strangled by the second-period onslaught.

Sixteen seconds into the period, Poulin's slap shot from the right corner glanced off the skate of the Rangers' Ron Greschner and into the net.

Tim Kerr scored 45 seconds later against Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who had played superbly until tonight but now was shaken.

At 5:17, Zezel beat him with a slap shot from above the left faceoff circle for a 5-1 lead.

"All of a sudden," said the Rangers' Don Maloney, "it was bang, bang, bang and we're down 5-1. They waxed us in that period. They got that quick goal at the start of the second and then another and we were shellshocked."

That was all for Vanbiesbrouck.

"It's just like a pitcher," said Rangers Coach Ted Sator, who was trying to save some of Vanbiesbrouck's confidence for Tuesday. "If the first pitch he throws is hit over the light tower, and the second one is hit over the light tower, you have to get him out."

Vanbiesbrouck's replacement, Greg Hanlon, didn't fare much better. Tocchet greeted him with a breakaway goal on his first shot, and Kerr ended the scoring at 17:20 of the period, putting in a backhand.

"All you can do," said Sator, "is look to the clouds and say this wasn't our night and put it behind us."

*North Stars 7, Blues 4: In St. Louis, Brian Bellows and Neal Broten scored two goals each as Minnesota forced a fifth game in the Norris Division semifinal series. The winner on Tuesday will play Toronto in the division final.