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• Rangers to Face Capitals in First Round
• Lucky Fans Take the "Blueshirts Off Our Backs"
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Yes! They are in!
The Rangers clinched a berth in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. It is the fourth straight season that the Rangers have earned a postseason berth, the first time that the club has done so since 1993-94 through 1996-97.
Henrik Lundqvist was sensational in goal for the Rangers. He earned his 37th victory of the season -- the third straight year he has accomplished this feat, equaling his career single-season high- -- by stopping 37 of 38 shots.
“Already (Wednesday) I was looking forward to this game, the great atmosphere, last home game before the playoffs, playing Philly,” said Lundqvist. “It was intense, a fun game to play. And there were a lot of extra feelings afterwards. Relief, but also proud of what we accomplished here.”
Ryan Callahan scored a goal and picked up an assist for the Blueshirts, who handed their adoring fans the perfect gift on Fan Appreciation Night at MSG. Team captain Chris Drury had a pair of assists.
“Congratulations to the players,” head coach John Tortorella said after the game. “They have fought through it the last couple of months with ups and downs and a lot going on around the team. But they found a way to get in.”
Thursday’s victory not only assured the Rangers of a spot in the postseason, it also bumped them up into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. Both the Rangers and Canadiens -- who also clinched a playoff berth despite an overtime loss to the Bruins on Thursday -- have 93 points, but the Blueshirts own the first tiebreaker as they have one more victory than Montreal this season. Both teams have one game left to play.
Leading 2-1 in the third period, the Rangers pressed for the all-important insurance goal while relying on Lundqvist’s heroics to keep the Flyers from pulling even on the scoreboard.
Lundqvist made an incredible lunging glove save to rob Daniel Carcillo’s point-blank shot at 4:28, and then followed two minutes later with a quick right pad stop on Braydon Coburn’s blast after the Philly defenseman stole the puck inside the Rangers’ blueline.
“That was a good feeling,” Lundqvist said of his save on Carcillo, in particular. “As a goalie you want to make a difference because the guys are working so hard.”
Flyers goalie Martin Biron stood tall at the other end of the ice in the third period, as well, calmly keeping Rangers’ shots out of his net. At the 7:54 mark Biron barely got his glove on Marc Staal’s left-wing blast, and the puck ended up trickling wide of the goal, as close as the Blueshirts would come to scoring in what turned out to be a scoreless final period of play.
At the 10:05 mark of the third, the Flyers were handed a power play on a goaltender interference penalty called against New York’s Markus Naslund. On the play, Biron came out to deflect a centering pass away from the onrushing Naslund and the Rangers’ winger made contact with the Flyers’ goalie outside his crease, leading to the penalty call.
“I was happy to see that they didn’t score,” said Naslund. “But it’s a tough call, I think. I didn’t even see (Biron) and had no intention of bumping him.”
Philly’s Claude Giroux came within inches of tying the game with 4:11 remaining in regulation when his right wing shot off a rush beat Lundqvist up high, but hit under the crossbar without catching the net.
In the final minute of play, with the fans on their feet and rocking The Garden with playoff-like intensity, the Rangers did an excellent job denying the Flyers entry into the offensive zone. And the Rangers’ pressure at the other end, and in the neutral zone, was such that Philly even iced the puck with less than 30 seconds to go.
The Rangers could not have scripted a better start to this game than the one they actually got. What they did get was a goal less than a minute into the game, stellar goaltending from Lundqvist, a committed passionate effort, and a 2-0 lead after one period of play.
They also received a rousing ovation from the capacity Garden crowd upon heading to the dressing room after 20 minutes of play.
Persistence and hard work around the Flyers net led to the game-opening score by Naslund just 52 seconds into the first period. Girardi fired a right point shot on goal that was stopped -- but not controlled -- by Biron. Callahan fought off two defenders to chip away at the rebound before Naslund -- from the side of the net -- was able to knock the puck over the goal line for his 24th goal of the season.
The goal was not officially registered on the scoreboard until a video review upheld the on-ice call that the puck was directed in legally with a stick. The Garden Faithful erupted in a tremendous roar, and the Rangers had the important first goal of the night.
Unhappy that the referees did not blow their whistles to stop play during the scrum before Naslund’s goal, the Flyers nonetheless regrouped and mounted several waves of significant offensive pressure against the Rangers. However, Lundqvist was stout between the pipes, stopping all 16 shots he faced during the first period.
Lundqvist received some critical help from his teammates, as well. Staal saved a goal by tying up Philly’s Mike Knuble when a rebound landed on his stick and Lundqvist was scrambling out of position. And winger Fredrik Sjostrom outmuscled two Flyers in front of Lundqvist to control a loose puck during a Rangers penalty kill late in the period.
Callahan scored his 22nd goal of the season at 12:06 of the first period, neatly deflecting a Derek Morris slap shot past Biron. Credited with his second assist of the night on the play, Drury did a terrific job winning a battle for the puck in the corner, then controlling it along the boards, before feeding Morris for his booming shot from the right point. Though tied up in front, Callahan was able to get a stick on Morris’ shot to beat Biron to the stick side.
“You know that he always steps up when it’s needed,” Naslund said of Drury, who has four points in the Rangers’ last two games, both of which were important victories. “I think he has really shown that the last few games here, really led the charge.”
Morris, who earned the primary assist on Callahan’s goal -- which turned out to be the game-winner -- played another huge game in his own end for the Rangers. And this trip to the postseason will be only the second one in Morris’ 11-year NHL career.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Morris after the contest. “But it was awesome out there, and the fans were great. I love how passionate and how loud they are. They really kept us going; and we really feed off the fans.”
Biron may have given up a pair of goals in the first period, but his strong play early in the second helped the Flyers get right back into the game. During one sequence during the third minute of the middle stanza, Biron made several big saves as Callahan, Drury, and Naslund applied 30-40 seconds worth of relentless pressure in front of the Flyers’ cage.
With Biron holding the Rangers at bay, Philly was able to draw within a goal when Daniel Briere netted a power play goal at 9:14. With defenseman Paul Mara hunched over in pain after blocking a shot, the Flyers took advantage on a crisp passing play that saw Mike Richards whip a pass to Briere at the side of the Rangers’ net. Briere then roofed his 10th goal past a lunging Lundqvist, and the Rangers lead was cut in half to 2-1.
Philly picked up their collective play after Briere’s goal, but Lundqvist continued his strong work between the pipes -- including a sensational blocker save after Jeff Carter snuck behind the Blueshirts’ defense and rifled a shot far side with three minutes left in the period. Lundqvist finished with 11 saves in the second period, and the Rangers clung to a one-goal advantage heading into the final stanza.
“I really think we’ve played with a lot more confidence the last couple of games,” stated Lundqvist.
He and his teammates proved that point by playing a very strong third period, one in which they dictated much of the play on the ice.
“We didn’t sit back, instead we took it to them,” Lundqvist said of the Rangers’ third-period effort. “We forced the issue. That was a big difference, I think.”
A playoff spot secured in the 81st game of the regular season, the Rangers will wrap up the 2008-09 campaign with a rematch against the Flyers down at the Wachovia Center on Easter Sunday.
“We’re going to try and win Sunday, and then we’re going to go to work and get ready for the playoffs,” said Tortorella. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we need to improve in all areas. But it’s good to be in.”
|Markus Naslund (24) ASST: Ryan Callahan (18), Chris Drury (33)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Ryan Callahan (22) ASST: Derek Morris (13), Chris Drury (34)|
2 - 0 NYR
|PPG - Daniel Briere (10) ASST: Mike Richards (49), Kimmo Timonen (40)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Derek Morris Unsportsmanlike conduct against Scott Hartnell|
|Scott Hartnell Unsportsmanlike conduct against Derek Morris|
|Michal Rozsival Hooking against Daniel Briere|
|Simon Gagne Hooking against Marc Staal|
|Mike Knuble Holding against Marc Staal|
|Derek Morris Tripping against Daniel Briere|
|Marc Staal Holding against Simon Gagne|
|Markus Naslund Interference on goalkeeper against Martin Biron|