Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center the Rangers did much of what they set out to do in their Game Four battle with the Philadelphia Flyers. However it wasn't enough as Steve Mason made his first start of the series in goal for Philly and helped hand the Rangers a 2-1 defeat, one that evened this best-of-seven series at two games apiece. The pivotal Game Five will be played Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
"It's going to come down to execution in all areas of the ice--PK, power play, five-on-five," offered defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played 28 minutes Friday. "You're not going to get many looks it seems like in this series. It's pretty tight checking and tough to get to the front of the net. We're going to have to battle hard and really step up our game."
Mason, who was only able to play seven minutes and change as Ray Emery's backup through the first three games of this series due to an unspecified injury, made his first start in nearly two weeks and showed no signs of rust or lingering injury. He was sensational in an opening period that was fairly dominated by the Rangers--who played the fast-paced north-south game preached by head coach Alain Vigneault--and closed out the night by making 37 saves.
"He made some big saves, he played well, you have to give him credit" Brad Richards said of Mason, who earned his first career playoff victory. "There's always more you could have done when it's 2-1, but he still made some big saves. In the end, they scored two goals, we scored one, and we're sitting here 2-2 (in the series) so it's a best-of-three."
The Rangers were also partially done in by their own power play, which failed on all four opportunities, including a 4-on-3 which bridged the second and third periods. New York is now 3-for-20 in the series on the power play, and just 1-for-14 in the last three games.
"We had some good looks (on the power play)," noted Vigneault. "At this time of the year you need more than good looks. You need to get the job done."
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 23 of 25 shots in a losing effort for the Rangers.
Mason was the difference as the Flyers carried a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. He stopped 27 of 28 Rangers shots, including a gorgeous in-tight backhander by McDonagh with the clock winding down in the second period, and afforded his team the chance to battle back from an early 1-0 deficit.
New York's Dominic Moore took a hooking minor just 2:26 into the contest, and with the Wells Fargo Center crowd roaring and smelling early blood, the Rangers calmly killed off the penalty; and 12 seconds after emerging from the penalty box, Moore scored his first goal of the series to give the visitors the lead. Moore accepted a Brian Boyle head-man pass on left wing and hammered a shot on net which bounced off Mason. The veteran center then pounced on his own rebound, carried the disc behind the net, and beat Mason on a wraparound, putting New York ahead 1-0 at 4:38.
The Rangers pressed for a two-goal first-period advantage--something they had done in each of the previous two games of this series--but Mason would not allow it, shutting the door time and again. Mason would make 15 saves in the first period, and the Flyers would tie things up at 8:55 with Matt Read scoring his first goal. Rookie Jason Akeson fired a hard shot wide of the net off the backboards--purposely on a set play--with the puck caroming to a wide-open Read to the left of Lundqvist. Read snapped a quick shot into the Rangers net, and the two teams would skate off the ice after one period of play tied 1-1.
Philadelphia scored a power play goal 7:22 into the second period to take its first lead of the night. Jakub Voracek scored his second of the series by deflecting Brayden Schenn's hard pass/shot from the point behind Lundqvist--the Flyers third power play goal of the series.
Mason denied all 12 New York shots in the second period, though the Rangers shots tended to be more from the outside with less traffic in front of the net when compared to the first period. The Rangers forced Mason to work much harder in the opening period, perhaps a credit to how the Flyers defended them in the middle twenty minutes.
"I think we made it too easy on Mason," stated Marty St. Louis, who recorded three shots on goal, but was held without a point for the first time in this series.
The physical nature of the series--derided by several Flyers including Voracek and Zac Rinaldo following Friday's morning skate--certainly ratcheted up in Game Four, but never really got out of control as both teams played hard and physical--and chippy at times--but were smart to not cross too many lines along the way. Philly's Wayne Simmonds and Luke Schenn were noticeably involved on Friday, as were the Rangers' Daniel Carcillo, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Dorsett, and Dominic Moore. Both teams were credited with 33 hits in the game, with Dan Girardi leading New York with seven.
Zuccarello delivered one of the biggest hits Friday night when he wiped out Flyers captain Claude Giroux near center ice late in the third period.
Philly defenseman Nicklas Grossmann was knocked out of the game early in the second period on a hit by New York's Derick Brassard. Though the Flyers did not reveal wha his injury was, Grossmann skated off the ice favoring his right leg.
Later in the same period Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman was slow to get up after being hammered to the ice by Philly's Vincent Lecavalier, but he did not miss a shift.
Sunday's Game Five is a 12:00 noon start at The Garden. The two teams will then travel back down to Philadelphia for Game Six on Tuesday night.