Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden the Rangers maintained their home-ice advantage over the Philadelphia Flyers with a 4-2 victory in a pivotal Game Five of the Metropolitan Division Semifinals, and now, leading the series three-games-to-two, the Blueshirts can advance to the second round with a win Tuesday night down in Philly where Game Six will be played at the Wells Fargo Center.
"It's as simple as we want to win that game, we can't let the foot off the gas," Marc Staal said of trying to finish the Flyers off Tuesday while looking to avoid a Game Seven Wednesday night at The Garden. "We have to go in there and win a game. We want to get it done in their building and we have to have the killer instinct to get in there and try and get a win."
Where Flyers goalie Steve Mason bedeviled New York with 37 saves on 38 shots in Philly's Game Four 2-1 win on Friday night, the Rangers were able to beat him more often on far fewer shots in Game Five Sunday. The Rangers held a 1-0 lead after one period of play despite recording only six shots on goal. By time they had registered 12 shots on goal, the Rangers held a 3-0 lead in the second period and could have had another goal if not for a terribly quick whistle by the referee at 2:14 of the second which wiped out a Marty St. Louis goal when Mason not once had the puck covered in his crease.
St. Louis did his part, though, Sunday assisting on Staal's game-opening goal 11:53 into a sleepy first period for both teams, and playing with jump throughout. St. Louis, who leads the Rangers with six points through the first five games of this series, had a pair of gorgeous opportunities to score in the third period built on sensational one-on-one moves to the net by the ageless winger. He finished the game with a team-high four shots on goal, as 15 of the Blueshirts' 18 skaters recorded at least one shot on Mason, who stopped 18 of 21 overall before a late empty netter for New York.
"I think we are pleased with the result today," noted St. Louis. "We did a lot of good things. As you go through a series, you have to keep elevating your game because the other side will. I thought today we did that, and we got rewarded for that."
Brad Richards and Dominic Moore added second period goals before Philly finally got one behind Henrik Lundqvist with 32.6 seconds to play before the second intermission when Vincent Lecavalier's power play slap shot hit Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein in front and redirected past Lundqvist and into the cage.
Other than that unfortunate bounce the Rangers penalty killers were simply superb on Sunday. With the Blueshirts not nearly as disciplined in their play as they had been when shorthanded only twice in Game Four, the Ranger penalty killers were a dominating 4-for-4 until Lecavalier's goal.
On the other hand the Rangers could have helped themselves greatly had they been able to get their power play untracked, but instead the Blueshirts were 0-for-3 with the man advantage, though should have been credited early in the middle period with a goal when St. Louis tapped a loose puck over the goal line after John Moore's original shot. Referee Justin St. Pierre's quick whistle negated that power play goal, however.
"If you want to win you're going to have a lot of different things come at you," explained Richards, who is second on the team with five points in the series. "(The referees) are doing their best trying to make the calls they see fit, they're not trying to do anything else other than that. If they don't see it you try and talk to them, and I've never seen a call changed, so you take it and use it as motivation. That's what we did."
Down 3-1 the Flyers pulled Mason for an extra attacker with 2:45 remaining in regulation and Claude Giroux made things interesting by whistling a left wing shot through a Wayne Simmonds screen and past Lundqvist for his first goal of the series with 1:29 left to play. Brian Boyle put the game away, though, by scoring into the empty net, off a Dom Moore pass with 15 seconds remaining.
Staal scored off the rush to give New York a 1-0 lead with both teams seemingly fighting the cobwebs that come with an early afternoon start. St. Louis chipped the puck out of the Rangers zone to Derek Stepan, who then found No. 26 streaking over the Flyers blue line for a return pass. St. Louis dropped a pass to Staal at the left circle and skated right for Mason with Staal's shot arriving at about the same instant. The puck settled into the back of the net, Staal had his first goal of the series, and the Rangers had taken a 1-0 lead.
"It was down to the end there, but we played a strong game," stated Staal, who was a +2 while playing 18:56 Sunday, and is now a team-best +6 in the series. "It was much better than last game, and it was a big win."
Richards doubled the Blueshirts advantage at 8:07 of the second after a prolonged scramble by Mason's crease. J.T. Miller--who took Daniel Carcillo's spot in the lineup and made his NHL playoff debut--was right in the middle of the scrum by Mason's cage and earned the primary assist when Richards popped the loose puck into the net, his second goal of the series.
The decision to play Miller Sunday proved to be a wise one as he added speed to the Rangers lineup, played a strong physical game, and was responsible defensively while skating on a line with Richards and Carl Hagelin, the latter of whom was penalized three times on the afternoon.
"I didn't know 100 percent (he was playing) 'til I got to the rink today," shared Miller, who played 10:22, picked up the assist, was a +2, had one shot on goal, and was credited with two hits in his post-season debut. "I was anxious, but not so much nervous. The heart rate was up and I just tried to calm myself down, especially at the start."
A fantastic individual effort by Dom Moore upped the Rangers lead to 3-0 at 16:20 of the second period. Relentless on the puck, Moore stripped veteran Hal Gill of the puck inside the Flyers blue line and the beat Mason with a forehand snap shot for an unassisted goal, his second tally in as many games. Gill was in the Flyers lineup because Nicklas Grossmann suffered a lower body injury in Game Four and could not play.
"The puck was bouncing a little bit on them, so you want to put pressure on them, and it was a fortunate bounce (for New York)," explained Moore, who was selected as the game's Second Star for his two-point effort. "It's a game of luck sometimes."
Like most of the series, so far, Game Five had its physical moments and chippiness, but nothing that got out of hand. Staal, Klein and Ryan McDonagh both played hard, mean-spirited games in front of Lundqvist, and all three were involved in various post-whistle skirmishes with various Flyers--most notably Simmonds, who on several occasions took late whacks at Lundqvist's pads. The smallest Ranger, Mats Zuccarello, played a fierce game, as well, physical and agitating for the Rangers.
Lundqvist closed out the game with 24 saves, including nine in the third period.