Rangers to play for a playoff berth on Sunday
|Marian Gaborik and fellow Rangers congratulate Brandon Dubinsky on his 20th goal of the season, which gave the Blueshirts a 3-1 lead at 6:58 of the second period. Gaborik would go on to score the eventual game-winner just under 10 minutes later.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
One more win and the Rangers are in the playoffs.
Friday night, before an electric, capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers skated to a scintillating 4-3 must-win victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the season’s next-to-last contest.
Now even in points with Philly for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, though trailing in victories, the Rangers need to win their rematch with the Flyers on Sunday afternoon at the Wachovia Center in order to reach the post-season for a fifth straight year.
“(The crowd) was unbelievable, it was a great atmosphere,” said Marian Gaborik
, who scored the game-winning goal and added an assist for the Rangers, now 7-1-1 in their last nine games. “They led us through this game, which was just like a playoff game.”
The third period featured the intensity befitting the moment, as both teams battled with passion over every inch of the ice. Perhaps the most symbolic intense moment occurred with 8:46 left to play when Philly’s Scott Hartnell ran Artem Anisimov
hard into the boards with a borderline hit. Dan Girardi
immediately jumped to Anisimov’s defense and landed several thunderous punches during the ensuing fight, driving Hartnell to the ice in the process.
“That’s just a thing that happens in a hockey game,” said Girardi. “It was a big hit on Artie, so I felt that I had to step up there. After that it’s just back to business.”
Just moments before, the Rangers twice came within inches of grabbing a two-goal lead, though failed to do so. Flyers’ goaltender Brian Boucher nearly put the puck into his own net while trying to wrap it around his cage, instead ringing it off the post. Jody Shelley was right in front, teed up the loose puck as it caromed off iron, and fired towards the empty net, but Boucher dove across his crease to make an incredible stick save.
The Flyers’ best chances to pull even came with five minutes left to play. Henrik Lundqvist
was forced to make a series of spectacular saves as Philadelphia skated on the power play. Lundqvist stopped all 10 shots he faced in the wild third period, and finished with 24 saves overall.
As the clock ticked off the final seconds off the penalty kill, The Garden Faithful erupted with chants of “Hen-rik! Hen-rik!”
“They were all over us there for a few minutes, but we held on,” said Lundqvist. “To come out of here with a win was huge.”
Girardi agreed that the Rangers’ penalty killing played a big part in the win, but also credited Lundqvist for his role in that shorthanded success.
“Our penalty kill has been great all year and it has stepped up at times that we needed it,” said Girardi. “Obviously we have one of the best goalies in the league back there and he was unbelievable for us.”
The Rangers carried a 4-3 lead into the third period, following 40 minutes of riveting back-and-forth action with Gaborik’s goal at 16:54 of the second period the difference.
Just two minutes after the Flyers had erased a two-goal deficit, Gaborik snatched up a loose puck at the Philly blueline following a Chris Pronger bobble and burst toward the left circle. Gaborik’s shot deflected off defenseman Matt Carle’s stick up-and-over Boucher’s shoulder to put the Rangers back in front by one.
|Rangers forward Jody Shelley celebrates his first goal as a Blueshirt. The goal, scored at 10:13 of the first period, gave the Blueshirts their first lead at 2-1.
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“Yeah, I think it was a big goal for us,” said Gaborik. “I think every shift we came out with the thought that we were going to win this game, even though they tied the game. There’s a really good vibe in this locker room right now.”
The goal was Gaborik’s 42nd of the season, matching his previous career-high set two seasons ago, when he skated with the Minnesota Wild. It was also the second huge play that the superstar right wing made during the second period.
With the Rangers holding a 2-1 advantage early in the period, Gaborik used his tremendous speed to skate around Carle on right wing. As he began to circle the net, Gaborik flicked a pass towards the crease where Brandon Dubinsky
was able to roof the puck over Boucher at 6:58, providing the Rangers a two-goal lead.
“This was a playoff game, plain and simple,” said Dubinsky, whose goal was his 20th of the season, marking his first-ever 20-goal campaign in the National Hockey League. “In essence it’s a Game Seven, definitely a playoff atmosphere, and we expect no different for Sunday.”
Philadelphia did their best to quiet The Garden crowd and take over the game following Dubinsky’s score, however. Danny Briere scored his 26th goal, a one-timer from left wing off a perfect Simon Gagne cross-ice pass, at 8:26 to cut the Rangers’ lead to 3-2. And Mike Richards netted his second goal of the night, 31st of the season, at 14:41 after his breakaway attempt was stopped by Lundqvist but caromed over the goal line after the rebound struck the skate of defenseman Michal Rozsival
“Being up 3-1 and then having them come back and tie it up, we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves and get down,” said Erik Christensen
, who recorded a pair of assists on Friday. “We just kept playing. There’s no reason to change our game now.”
The Rangers suffered another major blow a minute before Richards tied the game when the team’s alternate captain Ryan Callahan
seemed to re-injure his left knee. Leading an aggressive forecheck, Callahan crushed Pronger with a thunderous check behind the Flyers net, but came up limping afterwards.
After sitting on the bench for a bit, Callahan took a twirl on the ice during a television timeout and then headed immediately to the locker room and did not return for the remainder of the game.
It was just one more obstacle for the Rangers to overcome on Friday night. A rare giveaway by steady defenseman Marc Staal
in front of his own net led directly to the game-opening goal by Richards just 40 seconds into play. Nineteen seconds later, Aaron Voros was penalized for high-sticking Daniel Carcillo, and the Rangers were on the precipice of a disastrous start to the game.
“Staalsie is going to make that play nine times out of ten, but unfortunately it hit the shaft of the stick and he’s a little bit unlucky there,” said Dubinsky. “But we just had to stick with it, which we talked about on the bench. We just have the confidence in each other right now.”
The Blueshirts killed off the penalty to Voros, though, and then answered with a power play goal of their own at 7:22 of the first period to tie the game 1-1. Chris Drury
swept a perfect cross-ice feed from Christensen into the cage for his 14th goal as Carcillo sat in the penalty box for high-sticking Brandon Prust
Three minutes after Drury scored, Prust turned in a terrific effort to set up Jody Shelley’s first goal of the season and give the Rangers a 2-1 lead, an advantage they would carry into the second stanza. After Artem Anisimov
lost a faceoff in the offensive zone, Prust charged forward, stole the puck, and quickly fed Shelley in front of the net. Shelley flipped a quick shot past Boucher as The Garden exploded in celebration.
“To get a goal from Jody like that, a guy who usually doesn’t score, it’s a huge lift,” said Christensen. “Plus it was bang-bang after the first goal and put us up 2-1. It was huge.”
If Friday night’s game required a monster effort in order for the Rangers to edge the Flyers, the club is well aware that it will be even more difficult to secure the needed two points on the road Sunday in Philly.
But after coming from way back in the standings nine games ago, all the Rangers need to do in Game No. 82 on Sunday is win one more time. Do that, and the playoffs begin for the Blueshirts next week.
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