Easter Sunday at Madison Square Garden the Rangers gave the home fans plenty to cheer about early on, but in the end they let a 2-0 lead slip away before eventually dropping Game Two of their Metropolitan Division Semifinal series 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers. With the series even at one game apiece, Games Three and Four will be played Tuesday and Friday in Philadelphia, with the Flyers having stolen home-ice advantage with their victory on Sunday.
"It's going to be a close race, we didn't expect this to be easy," stated goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after the game. "We just have to regroup and stay confident, go to Philly and try and beat them there."
Coming into play Sunday the Rangers had not lost in nine consecutive home games against the Flyers, dating to February of 2011. They had won Game One of this best-of-seven series Thursday, 4-1, and raced out to a two-goal advantage in the first period Sunday before the Flyers finally found their way on Garden ice.
Ray Emery, starting once again in the place of injured No. 1 goalie Steve Mason, allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced Sunday, but then turned things around and played a terrific game, denying the Rangers at every turn. Emery finished with 31 saves, outdueling Lundqvist. After facing only 15 shots in Game One, Lundqvist allowed three goals on the first 14 shots he saw in Game Two. He ended the afternoon stopping 21 of 24 shots.
"Obviously we had a really good start, were playing really well," explained Lundqvist. "They came back pretty strong late in the first and in the second period. We had our opportunities, but now we have to regroup, go into Philly and try and get the next one."
In the series opener Thursday the Rangers scored twice on the power play in the third period to snap a 1-1 tie; but in Game Two, after scoring early on the power play, the Blueshirts could only convert on 1-of-6 opportunities overall with the man advantage, while the Flyers were 2-for-3--another important factor in Sunday's end result.
The second of those Philadelphia power play goals was scored into the empty net by Wayne Simmonds with 25.4 seconds remaining in the third period--Philly's fourth goal, icing Game Two in favor of the Flyers.
"We had some power plays where we didn't get it done," offered alternate captain Brad Richards, who had five shots on goal in just under 21 minutes of ice-time Sunday. "We had some point-blank chances that Emery made some big saves on. It could go either way in some of those situations. They seemed to be very opportunistic on their chances, and they won."
The Rangers could not have scripted a better start to Game Two then the one they authored over the first half of the first period. They raced out to a 2-0 lead on their first four shots of the contest, with goals from Marty St. Louis and Benoit Pouliot, inciting the Garden Faithful to serenade Emery with chants of "We want Hextall!"--in reference to the former Flyers and Islanders netminder and current Philly front office executive, Ron Hextall.
However Emery settled down between the pipes, Jakub Voracek scored a big goal to quell the home team's momentum at 14:14 of the first, the Flyers added a pair of goals in the second period despite being outshot 17-9, and the Rangers somehow found themselves trailing 3-2 after 40 minutes of play.
"This game can be funny sometimes, I thought the (second) period was our best period of the game--I thought we had some Grade A chances, the power play had some great looks, but they scored two and we didn't," summed up Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "The second period was where we generated our most opportunities, but they scored twice and we didn't score. That's the game."
St. Louis opened the scoring 4:08 into the contest, potting his first post-season goal as a Ranger--and his first even-strength goal with the Blueshirts. John Moore got the play rolling with a takeaway at center ice. After he chipped the puck to Rick Nash on left wing, Nash found Derek Stepan with a pass in the middle over the blue line, and Stepan made a slick pass to St. Louis who buried a right-wing shot for the 1-0 lead.
With Sean Couturier in the penalty box the Rangers struck for a power play goal at 8:22 to grab a 2-0 lead. Again slick passing and making Emery move from side to side were keys in the goal which was scored by Pouliot and assisted by Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. Pouliot's right-wing shot was actually a mis-hit on a one timer, and the puck resembled a knuckleball as it fluttered past Emery and into the cage.
With The Garden rocking and the Flyers reeling it seemed that the Rangers were well on their way to a 2-0 series lead, but slowly but surely the Flyers got their forecheck going and started controlling the play more and more along the boards. Then with 5:46 to play in the first Voracek powered past Ryan McDonagh, avoided Lundqvist's poke check, and slipped the disc into the back of the net to give the visitors life.
"They're a team that is going to get opportunities to score goals," explained defenseman Marc Staal. "They made some plays and were able to grab that momentum and we weren't able to stop it quick enough."
The Rangers went out and controlled most of the second period, but a revived Emery stopped all 17 shots he faced, and Philly scored twice on rebounds left in his crease by Lundqvist. Rookie Jason Akeson--whose double minor high-sticking penalty was the turning point in Game One--banged in the rebound of a blocked Vinny Lecavalier shot for a power play goal at 5:45 of the second, tying the game 2-2.
At 8:58 of the second the Rangers were presented with a 4-on-3 power play opportunity, a perfect chance to regain the lead and momentum of the game. However despite a pair of good looks for Richards and St. Louis, the Rangers failed to score and the Flyers really seized the momentum shortly thereafter when defenseman Luke Schenn cleaned up a rebound of Adam Hall's shot to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead at 11:18.
The Rangers managed only seven shots on goal in the third period as the Flyers did a good job tightening things up. Philly defenseman Nicklas Grossmann took an interference penalty 3:15 into the final period, but the Flyers did a good job killing off the penalty, and the Rangers had very few good looks after that.
It was perhaps fitting that the Rangers took a too many men on the ice penalty when trying to get Lundqvist to the bench for an extra attacker with 1:19 left to play--a frustrating end to a frustrating afternoon.
"We didn't get the win like we wanted," concluded Staal. "They made a good push there in the second and we weren't able to stop it. Now e have to go into Philly and try to get a couple (wins)."