The narratives working against the Flyers prior to Sunday’s game two tilt in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers were almost too plentiful to keep track of. There was the nine-game losing streak the team had in the ‘Blue Shirts’ barn. There was arguably the greatest goalie in the world, Henrik Lundqvist who had not allowed more than two goals at home against Philadelphia over the span of their win streak against the Flyers. Claude Giroux, one of the most prolific scorers in the game, reverted to an ineffective forward when he visited the division rivals. Finally, on top of it all, Steve Mason would miss his second straight game recovering from whiplash symptoms. If the Flyers hope to contend in this opening round series, they would have to get by all of these hurdles to win a game at the World’s Most Famous Arena if they hoped to advance. Sunday, they put forth the type of effort that makes one think they might just have a shot at doing so.
Behind a tremendous showing by Ray Emery, who turned aside 31 of 33 Rangers shots, and an outstanding effort by the Flyers penalty kill (killed off five of six New York power plays) the Orange and Black got the win they needed and have put the pressure back on New York as the series returns to Philadelphia.
The game started about as poorly as one could have expected. After killing off an early Rangers power play, a tic-tac-toe passing play capped by a Martin St. Louis one-timer gave New York a 1-0 lead before every fan could take their seats. Before even reaching the midway mark of the opening 20 minutes, a careless penalty on Sean Couturier, the Flyers best penalty killer, gave the Rangers another man advantage. This time they would cash in when Benoit Pouliot fluttered a one-timer past a sprawling Emery to make the score 2-0. Pouliot did not get the meat of the puck on the shot, but Emery’s momentum worked against him and he was unable to snare the Rangers second goal. From there, it could have been very easy for the Flyers to give up and succumb to the demons that Madison Square Garden had given them. Instead, top-line winger Jakub Voracek decided to take matters into his own hands to try to give his team a spark.
With just over five minutes in the contest, Voracek took a pass at the red line with a head of steam. He was able to skate alongside the boards and blow past a trailing Ryan McDonough before whipping the puck away from Lundqvist and wining it past the world-class netminder. Though the Flyers were still down 2-1, Voracek’s incredible individual effort helped stem the tide and pump some life into a listless Flyers roster. They were able to fend off another late Ranger power play and go into the locker room feeling good about themselves. Philadelphia would put eight shots on net compared to New York’s nine and appear far more engaged in doing the necessary hard work to beat a team as tough as the Rangers in their building.
The 2nd period would prove to be the defining stage of the game, as the Flyers were able to not only hold off the Rangers heaviest onslaught, but take the lead in doing so. Towards the tail-end of the Flyers second power play of the game, Vinny Lecavalier rocketed a shot on Lundqvist from the center point. The Rangers goalie would leave a juicy rebound and Jason Akeson, the goat of game one, deposited the tying goal past Lundqvist for his first career playoff tally. Akeson rewarded the faith of his head coach, as few would have gotten too upset with Berube if he had benched the rookie for his double-minor penalty in the first game.
From that point, the frequency of penalties on both sides took an uptick. First, Andrew MacDonald and Mats Zuccarello took matching minors setting up a four-on-four situation. Then, Kimmo Timonen was taken off for holding, giving the Rangers a lethal four-on-three situation. Some key saves by Emery and strong PK work by Sean Couturier kept the game knotted at two despite heavy Ranger threats. Soon after the penalty time expired, the Flyers pounced and took their first lead of the contest. A strong rush by Adam Hall and Michael Raffl would force the Ranger defense to sag back on an odd-man rush. With a delayed penalty on the Rangers already having been indicated, defenseman Luke Schenn had jumped into the play and collected another Lundqvist rebound and fired a backhander to the back of the net. Philadelphia would take a 3-2 lead and leave a once-raucous MSG crowd dumbfounded by the relinquished lead. Ultimately, Emery would turn away all 17 New York shots as the Flyers hit the 2nd period locker room with a one-goal lead. It was the first time since the Flyers losing streak in Madison Square Garden that they put three past Lundqvist and did so on only 17 shots.
— John Boruk (@JohnBorukCSN) April 20, 2014
The third period, save for an early kill by the PK unit, was largely uneventful compared to the second. The Flyers, seemingly the more energized club, outshot the trailing Rangers 8-7 and kept most of the New York chances to manageable spots for Emery and the defense. With the time winding down and New York desperately trying to pull Lundqvist for an extra attacker, miscommunication from the Rangers bench led to a too-many-men penalty, negative the possibility for a one-man advantage. Even after they were able to bring Lundqvist off the ice, Wayne Simmond corralled the puck in his own zone, muscled through a few defenders, and scored on the empty net from his knees to seal the win and send his team home with a much-needed split.
New York would finish with the shots advantage 33-25, but the Flyers exceptional work on the PK and commitment to playing a smart, low-risk game against the Rangers proved to be the difference. The question moving forward, with game three on Tuesday in Philadelphia, is whether to stick with Emery if Steve Mason is ready to go. Personally, in the NHL you have to stick with the hot hand in net. Though Mason got the Flyers here for the most part, Emery looked as strong in the second two periods against New York on Sunday as any stretch of the season. Even with Claude Giroux going shotless for the first two games against a team constructed to give the Flyers fits, they have done what they set out to do and are carrying momentum back to their building. Philadelphia won both home showdowns against the Rangers this season, and will be playing in front of an electric Flyers crowd desperate for playoff hockey.