This afternoon's tilt got off to an appropriate start when Brandon Prust and Sean O'Donnell dropped the gloves just forty-five seconds into the first period to get the juices flowing. In a game that promised to be an all out battle right from the opening face-off, it was almost inevitable that a scrap would be the best way to kick things off at the Well Fargo Center today in Philadelphia.
The intensity only escalated from that point on as both teams were throwing around the body and in the opening stanza, the game was pretty wide open with both teams getting odd-man chances. The first goal did not come until 12:25 of the first, though, as James vanRiemsdyk would find a loose puck in the crease and slide it past a sprawled Henrik Lundqvist to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. On this particular play, both Bryan McCabe and Steve Eminger were caught standing around and watching instead of taking action.
It wasn't long until McCabe redeemed himself, because he would end up tying the game for the Rangers with under a second left on the clock in the first period. With Callahan being interfered with and Marc Staal being high-sticked within the final minutes, the Blueshirts were given a very important 5 on 3 advantage. Thankfully they took advantage with Derek Stepan feeding McCabe for a howitzer of a one-timer and the two teams went to the locker rooms tied at one.
As the second period progressed, the Flyers appeared to become fatigued after having played three games in four days. The Rangers picked up on this and began to take over the game by applying a persistent forecheck. They worked the corners well and, for the most part, kept Philadelphia pinned in their own zone. The hard work paid off at 13:30 of the second when Ruslan Fedotenko slammed home a rebound that squirted out into the slot for his tenth of the season.
In addition to really bringing it offensively, the Rangers also gave up very little in the defensive zone, keeping the Flyers' skilled forwards contained. This made it easier for Henrik Lundqvist in goal, who recently has gotten used to facing a barrage of shots from in close.
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Philadelphia grabbed some of the momentum back in the third period, responding after an alarmingly poor effort in the second. They were catching the Rangers off guard with long outlet passes to spring odd-man rushes. At 4:32, Nik Zherdev tied the game on a play where multiple factors came into play.
First off, prior to the goal, defenseman Ryan McDonagh blocked a shot with his leg and was in pain, barely being able to stand up. The puck was cleared out of his own zone, so he thought he was safe to make a change. Unfortunately the Flyers regrouped right outside the blue-line and Nik Zherdev (McDonagh's man) was left wide-open cutting through the slot. Claude Giroux found him with a beautiful pass for the tap-in.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net for the remainder of the third or in overtime, so just like it did last April, the shootout would decide this 2-2 tie. Henrik Lundqvist was perfect, fighting off Zherdev's quick wrister with the glove and poke-checking Giroux on his attempt. On the other end, the Ranger forwards were also perfect as Erik Christensen absolutely owned Sergei Bobrovsky with a series of moves and Wojtek Wolski's dipsy doodle just barely snuck past the goal line. So, as usual, the Rangers were able to obtain the full two points in dramatic fashion.
Henrik Lundqvist had to be the better goalie in this game and he was the better goalie in this game. Stopping 32 shots, plus the two he faced in the shootout, Henrik showed us all that he is in playoff mode. There were times in this game where Philly was scarily dominating the Rangers in the offensive zone and Hank had to handle things himself. The All-Star netminder was able to do so and stole another pair of key points for his club.
As the NBC broadcast did an excellent job of pointing out, the key to the Rangers' success this afternoon was sacrifice. They were dropping on the ice to block shots constantly, and it wasn't only your usual suspects; it was everyone. Marc Staal led the charge, and even after breaking his nose in the second period, he was still throwing himself in front of slap shots, showing his dedication to the team. Playing with a broken nose is unbelievable in itself, and then to continue to sacrifice the body despite that is just incredible.
All of the shot blocking aided the Rangers in killing all four of the Flyers' powerplay opportunities this afternoon. Philly has struggled with the man advantage, especially without Chris Pronger in the lineup, so the Rangers wisely took a high-pressure approach when down a man. I'd say it worked out pretty well, eh?
I'm happy John Tortorella elected not to go with the new offensive combinations he put together in practice on Saturday, because that Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan line played a major role in today's victory. How many times did the NBC guys compliment them? It felt like they were being talked about every other shift, and it's all recognition that they deserve.
Also, hats off to Marian Gaborik for playing a desperate hockey game today. His mentality and will have been questioned over the course of the season, but his efforts defensively in this game proved that he gets it. He knows it is do or die for his hockey club and that will go a long way on and off the ice.
New York has now surpassed the Buffalo Sabres for seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 89 points. That could change tonight when the Sabres and Hurricanes square off in Raleigh, but as long as the Rangers can win games like they did today (only three remaining on the schedule), then it really doesn't matter what the teams below them do.
With the confidence that comes along with defeating the second place team in a gutsy effort, I think the Blueshirts have a good chance of winning out to finish the season. We'll see if I am right starting tomorrow night when they host the Boston Bruins at MSG.