Throughout the 2013-14 regular season the Rangers were one of the NHL's premier road teams, winning 25 times away from Madison Square Garden; and Tuesday night their road magic continued in the post-season as they skated to a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of their first-round playoff series at the Wells Fargo Center. The win lifted New York to a 2-1 series lead and helped them regain the home-ice advantage which they had lost with Sunday's Game Two defeat at The Garden.
"We knew this was going to be a tough environment, and I think our guys were not only well-prepared for it, but they thrived on it," said head coach Alain Vigneault after the game. "They wanted this opportunity to come in here and win a game, and that's what we did."
Henrik Lundqvist sparkled between the pipes for the Rangers, making 31 saves. He vastly outplayed his Philadelphia counterpart Ray Emery, who allowed four goals on 20 shots before being replaced by Steve Mason with 7:15 remaining in the third period.
Martin St. Louis and Dan Girardi both had a goal and an assist for the Rangers, while Rick Nash contributed a pair of assists. St. Louis leads the team with five points in the series, while Nash has four points. Both star forwards have recorded at least one point in all three games, so far.
"You always want to be on top of your game, and it's a tough thing to do consistently, and I'm glad to be helping right now," said St. Louis. "Anything you can do to help the team win, playing a complete game this time of the year."
Vigneault made one lineup change and it paid dividends Tuesday. He inserted veteran Daniel Carcillo in the place of rookie Jesper Fast, and Carcillo played a physical, agitating game, earning the team's Broadway Hat postgame. Though he did take two minor penalties, Carcillo also sealed the Flyers fate by scoring at 10:53 of the third period, giving New York a three-goal lead--minutes after absorbing an unpenalized blow to the head which had left him sprawled on the ice. Carcillo charged to the net and redirected a Brian Boyle pass past Emery, a sweet moment for sure for the former Flyer.
"(The fans) were all over him the entire game, and he comes out and scores a big goal--a big goal for our team, and obviously he's an emotional guy so he was pretty fired up after that," said defenseman Marc Staal.
The Rangers surged to a 2-0 lead midway through the first period Tuesday, but just as they did in Game Two on Sunday, they surrendered a momentum-turning goal before the opening period was over. However where Game Three differed from Game Two is that New York scored the all-important next goal to take a 3-1 lead early in the second period whereas on Sunday it was the Flyers who tied the game in the second before eventually skating away with the 4-2 victory.
Emery mishandled Nash's left wing shot mere minutes after the opening puck drop, and Derek Stepan was right there to collect the loose puck and bang into the back of the cage, giving the Rangers a quick 1-0 lead at 3:54. The goal was Stepan's second of the series, and was just the beginning of a solid start for Nash and St. Louis, who both assisted on the goal.
Nearly seven minutes later Nash powered around the Flyers net before pushing a pass to Girardi at the right point. Girardi's slap shot that followed was tipped by St. Louis past Emery and into the net at 10:24, providing the visitors a 2-0 lead, and quieting the raucous Wells Fargo Center crowd.
"It's always nice to play with the lead, no doubt," offered St. Louis.
At the 16:52 mark of the first period Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen sent the puck over the glass and was called for a delay of game penalty, and the Rangers were in position to run the home team out of their own building before the first period was done by scoring on the power play. However Benoit Pouliot took an extremely ill-advised holding penalty just five seconds after Timonen was ushered to the box, and the Flyers not only dodged a bullet, they brought the house alive by scoring on the ensuing 4-on-4.
After Ryan McDonagh fell in the neutral zone right in front of teammate Brad Richards who was carrying the puck, the Flyers collected the loose disc and turned in transition the other way. A few passes later Mark Streit buried a one-timer past Lundqvist and the Flyers had halved their deficit with 2:42 to play in the opening period.
"When we scored he first two there, got a great start, then they got one, my first thought was let's not do this again," admitted Lundqvist. "So it felt like it was extremely important to have a strong second period."
Only one goal was scored in the second period, and despite the Flyers out-shooting New York 13-4, it was not the home team that scored. Instead the Rangers got a clutch goal off the stick off Girardi at 5:17--a top-shelf blast through a screen set by Carcillo. Richards and Carl Hagelin assisted on Girardi's first goal of the post-season, and the Rangers had taken a 3-1 lead.
"That was a big shot," Staal said of Girardi's goal. "That's the playoffs. You need different guys on different nights to come up and score goals for you. That was a big-time shot, and big momentum swing for us."
The stellar play of Lundqvist--his best period of the series, so far--and some excellent work by the team's penalty killing unit carried the Rangers the rest of the way in the second period. The Flyers had several surges and each time were turned away by a very sharp Lundqvist--whose acrobatic save on Scott Hartnell midway through the period was a true highlight. And the Rangers killed off a pair of penalties by Carcillo and Derek Dorsett later in the period, eventually finishing the night a perfect 5-for-5 on the kill.
A major key to the team's successful penalty kill Tuesday--as well as the overall solid defensive play at even strength again--was the fact that the Rangers blocked 28 shots in Game Three. Girardi led the team with five blocks, while defenseman Kevin Klein had four.
"Tonight our goaltender was the better of the two goaltenders, an we had some big blocked shots at the right time from our penalty killers," stated Vigneault.
Both teams played hard, with aggression and passion without, with most of the action taking place between the whistles and not afterwards. One major exception came 11:37 into the second period when the gloves came off of Hagelin and Jakub Voracek, with the far bigger Flyers forward raining punches down on Hagelin, who was taking part in his first NHL fight. Somehow the officials decided that both players would receive only roughing minors for their fight, so technically Hagelin is still without a fighting major in his career.
Game Four will be played in Philadelphia on Friday night.