The Rangers scored twice on a four-minute power play in the third period to snap a 1-1 tie en-route to a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game One of their Metropolitan Division Semifinal series Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Game Two will be played at 12:00 noon on Easter Sunday at The Garden.
"We did a lot of good things and we are going to continue building on that," said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who faced only 15 Flyer shots on Thursday night. "It's one game, and we start over again on Sunday. You have to earn it every night. You can't depend on what happened tonight."
Despite controlling the play and having the better of the chances throughout much of Thursday's contest, the Rangers found themselves tied with the Flyers approaching the midway point of the third period, but when Philadelphia rookie Jason Akeson cracked the door open for New York by high sticking Carl Hagelin in the mouth at the 7:35 mark, the Rangers blew the door--and the game--open by scoring twice in a span of 47 seconds.
Brad Richards put New York ahead 2-1 at 8:22 of the third when he hammered a right wing shot past Flyers goalie Ray Emery after Marty St. Louis collected his own rebound of a blocked shot in the slot and fed the puck to his former Tampa Bay Lightning teammate. Rick Nash--who recorded five shots on goal in the first period and finished with a game-high seven--started the scoring play with a brilliant behind the back pass to St. Louis.
Then at 9:09 Richards made a slick feed to the left wing goal line where a wide-open Derek Stepan fired into the back of the net past a lunging Emery to give New York a two-goal lead. St. Louis earned his second assist of the game on the play.
"(Akeson) got me pretty good, but I'll take that--we got a four-minute power play and we did a great job scoring on our chances," offered Hagelin after the game, while sporting a badly swollen and cut lip which did not require any stitches. "We got out there and you could see that the PP guys were on a mission. Getting that quick goal by Richie really helped our confidence; and getting one right after was key."
Richards was not done just yet, picking up his third point of the game--and of the period--firing a shot from right wing which caromed off Emery's pad and right to Hagelin, who buried the rebound from in front with 4:08 remaining in the contest. Jesper Fast earned his first NHL point by picking up the secondary assist in his first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff game.
"(Richards) had a real good game tonight at both ends," stated head coach Alain Vigneault postgame. "He made two great plays to help us score both those goals (on the power play). That's why he's here. He obviously is an experienced player that's been through the wars before."
After recording only point in ten post-season games a year ago, Richards tripled that output in the playoff opener Thursday night. He now has 81 points in 94 career post-season games. With two assists on Thursday, St. Louis now has 70 points in 64 career playoff contests.
The Rangers also put forth an outstanding group effort defensively, decisively shutting down the Flyers top players. Claude Giroux, who was third in the NHL with 86 points this season, was held without a shot over 17:08 worth of ice time, while Jakub Voracek (zero shots), Scott Hartnell (two shots), Wayne Simmonds (two shots), Mark Streit (zero shots) and Kimmo Timonen (zero shots) were largely ineffective all night long.
"We controlled the game," said Mats Zuccarello, who scored New York's first goal of the night. "Hank was good back there when they had chances. We got in on the forecheck and made some smart plays. It's a big game for us, and hopefully we can build on that coming forward here."
For the Flyers, one bright spot was the play of Emery, who was solid starting in place of the Flyers injured No. 1 goaltender Steve Mason, finishing with 32 saves. Emery kept the Flyers in the game, playing with poise amidst a 23-14 shots disparity in favor of the Rangers through two periods of play. He was beaten by a Zuccarello rebound 10:53 into the first period--and by a Derick Brassard wrister that kissed the post and bounced harmlessly away 5:30 into the second--and thus the two teams found themselves tied 1-1 at the second intermission.
The Rangers recorded the first four shots on goal in the game, but it was the Flyers who scored the first goal of the contest. After Hartnell caused a turnover behind the Rangers net by running Ryan McDonagh hard into the glass, defenseman Andrew MacDonald cranked up a slap shot that ticked off the stick of St. Louis and past Lundqvist 7:28 into the opening period. MacDonald's shot was Philadelphia's first of the game--and of the series--and it provided the visitors an important 1-0 lead.
"They got the first goal, on their first shot, and it was a little unlucky, but we kept playing and we had a real good start priot to that," explained Vigneault, who won in his Rangers post-season coaching debut.
Bouyed by another strong shift by the fourth line--in which Brian Boyle slammed Luke Schenn into the back wall behind the Flyers net and then proceeded to have a pair of in-tight scoring chances denied by Emery midway through the first--the Rangers kept the pressure on the Flyers and eventually tied the game when Zuccarello skated in to collect his own rebound and shovel the puck into the cage for his second career post-season goal, tying the score with 9:07 to play in the opening period.
Despite outshooting the Flyers 14-6, the Rangers could not manage to get another puck past Emery in that first period, and he denied all nine he faced in the second period, as well. The fourth line again generated a pair of excellent scoring chances in the period--Boyle robbed from the slot by Emery's blocker save, and Dominic Moore stoned down low by Emery's pad after some great hustle by Derek Dorsett. And there was also Brassard beating Emery cleanly, only to find iron early in the second.
Lundqvist kept his focus despite allowing a goal on the first shot he faced, and also despite not seeing much action in his end of the ice. He made a pair of excellent reaction saves on back-to-back point blank chances for Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl nine minutes into the middle period, and then followed two minutes later with a sprawling pad save to deny Matt Read off a 3-on-2 Philadelphia rush.
In the third period Lundqvist faced only one shot, due in large part to Philly's parade to the penalty box, with the visitors penalized four times in the final 12 minutes of the game. The Rangers finished 2-for-6 on the power play, while showing discipline, as well, giving Philadelphia only one power play opportunity all night long.
The Rangers have now won nine straight home games against the Flyers, and will look to try and make it ten in a row in Game Two on Sunday.