In a possible first-round playoff preview the Rangers went about their business and protected home ice in fine fashion Wednesday night, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 at Madison Square Garden. The win was New York's season-high fifth in a row, lifting the Rangers three points clear of the Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division, though Philly does have two games in hand.
"Obviously both teams knew the importance of this game as far battling for a playoff spot, battling for playoff position," explained Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault postgame. "For us this was a real important game before we leave on this four-game road trip here, and our guys were ready."
Henrik Lundqvist nearly picked up his sixth shutout of the season, but Jakub Voracek beat him with a slap shot at 18:07 of the third period with the teams skating four-on-four to make the score 3-1. Lundqvist finished the night with 30 saves and earned his 30th win of the season. It was the eighth time in his career Lundqvist has topped 30 victories. The only season in his career he failed to do so was during the lockout-shortened 48-game season of a year ago.
The Rangers fourth line accounted for two of the team's three goals--as both Derek Dorsett and Dominic Moore scored. Ryan McDonagh also found the back for the Blueshirts, who have now beaten the Flyers eight straight times on Garden ice, including twice this season.
"We know what the standings are at this point of the year," said McDonagh. "Most teams have games in hand on us right now, but it's a matter of continuing to climb and continuing to get points. This was another big win."
Though the first and second periods were opposites as far as the Rangers were concerned, there was one key similarity--the Rangers scored once in each period and the Flyers were held scoreless. Outshot 15-6 and outchanced in the opening 20 minutes of play, the Rangers still held a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes; and in the second period the Rangers stretched their lead to 2-0 while holding a commanding 17-10 shots advantage.
The constants in each period for the Rangers were the stellar play of Lundqvist and diligent hard work leading to each goal. Lundqvist was exceptionally sharp, especially in that opening 20 minutes when the Flyers fought their way to the blue paint with regularity and then closed out the period with five shots on goal during their first power play opportunity. In the second period he made his best save of the game, robbing Adam Hall on a point-blank put-back at 14:37 after his initial stop on Michael Raffl's hard right-wing shot.
Dorsett scored the only goal of the first period, while McDonagh netted the lone tally in the second. Dorsett worked his way from behind Philly's net to the front and collected Brian Boyle's shot in the low slot, wheeling a backhand shot past goaltender Steve Mason at 8:41 of the first to give New York a critical 1-0 lead. The goal was Dorsett's fourth of the season, and first since December 20th.
"I feel like I got my confidence back," said Dorsett, who missed two months of action with a fractured leg and only recently has earned more consistent time back in the lineup. "Confidence is a big thing in this game, and obviously tonight it was big to get that one (goal)."
That the fourth line produced two goals Wednesday night for the Rangers was only fitting as for the second straight contest Dorsett, Boyle, and Moore wreaked havoc on the opposition shift after shift, playing physically, creating prime scoring chances, and grinding down the other team.
McDonagh made a scintillating play to score a highlight-reel goal 5:34 into the second period to give New York a 2-0 lead. As the Flyers attempted to clear the puck up the middle of the ice, McDonagh sprinted from the neutral zone to intercept the puck before it could cross the blue line. McDonagh then skated a bit to his right and wired a wicked shot up and over Mason's blocker for his 14th goal of the season, extending his point streak to five consecutive games in the process.
"He's amazing right now to watch," Lundqvist said of McDonagh. "He's such a great skater, and he's so confident right now, plus he's making some great reads out there. It's impressive."
Vigneault heaped more praise on McDonagh when meeting with reporters postgame, adding that, "He's got to be getting some consideration for the Norris (Trophy) for the way he's playing offensively and defensively. He's obviously been one of our best players all season."
With Chris Kreider missing the game due to a hand injury, Marty St. Louis took his spot on the line with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, with that threesome generating several excellent scoring opportunities. J.T. Miller was recalled from Hartford to take Kreider's spot in the lineup and played on a line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.
For the third straight game John Moore was scratched as he recovers from concussion symptoms. Raphael Diaz took his spot in the lineup once again and played well---starting off with three blocked shots and three hits in the first period.
The Rangers will now embark on a four-game road trip that begins Friday night in Calgary, then continues through Edmonton, Vancouver, and Colorado.