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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Let the playoffs begin!
The Rangers closed out the regular season in high style, rallying for a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night at the Wachovia Center as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist established a new single-season career-high by earning his 38th win of the season.
By handing their hosts a defeat in regulation time, the Rangers denied the Flyers home-ice advantage in their Eastern Conference Quarter Final series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers needed at least one point in the standings on Sunday to secure fourth place in the East. Instead they finished in fifth, to the delight of the visitors.
“We wanted to be the spoilers for home-ice advantage with Philadelphia,” said defenseman Paul Mara. “The character on this team, starting with our leader, Chris Drury, is second to none, and we proved it out there today.”
Lundqvist was solid again on Sunday, making 28 saves, including eight in the third period. He had won 37 games each of the past two years, and had equaled that mark with a 2-1 victory over the Flyers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist, who started 70 games this season, concluded the campaign with a record of 38-25-7.
“We came here definitely wanting to win, and personally I really wanted to reach 38 wins for the first time, so to win this game felt really good,” said Lundqvist.
Brandon Dubinsky recorded the first two-goal game of his NHL career, and defenseman Derek Morris notched a pair of assists for the Rangers, who rallied from a 3-2 deficit to pull out the victory, and finish the regular season with three straight wins.
“We wanted to continue the roll we’ve been on the last few games and make sure we go into the playoffs on a high note,” said Dubinsky. “This one helps out a lot. And we’re excited to get going here.”
The Rangers concluded the 2008-09 campaign with a record of 43-30-9 and 95 points. They will square off against the Washington Capitals in the opening round of the playoffs.
Trailing 3-2 entering the third period, the Rangers were able to tie the contest just 4:35 into the final stanza. Moments after a failed power play, the Rangers charged into the offensive zone where Scott Gomez dropped a perfect pass to Sean Avery, and Avery blasted a one-timer from the top of the left circle just under the crossbar to tie the game 3-3.
The goal was Avery’s eighth of the season, fifth as a Ranger, and fourth against the Flyers this year.
Then at 9:02, the Rangers grabbed their first lead of the contest as Blair Betts scored his first goal in 34 games to put the visitors ahead 4-3. Sprung behind Philly defenseman Andrew Alberts by a neat chip pass from Aaron Voros, Betts had his initial shot on the break in denied by goaltender Martin Biron. But Betts knocked his own rebound past Biron for his sixth goal of the season, and the Rangers, who had trailed on three different occasions on Sunday, were finally in front.
“Bettsie does so much work away from the puck, defensively, and he hasn’t received a lot of ice-time along the way here, so for him to chip in, the guys are happy for him,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “That was a big goal.”
Voros was in the lineup for the first time since Feb. 26, taking the place of Drury, who was a bit banged up and did not play. The assist earned on Betts’ goal was the first point for Voros since he picked up an assist on Jan. 28 in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.
The two teams skated to an entertaining 2-2 tie after one period of play, with each of Dubinsky’s goals wiping out a Flyers one-goal advantage.
Claude Giroux opened the scoring for Philly at the 5:26 mark of the first, receiving a pretty pass from Daniel Briere and then banking a bad angle shot along the left-wing goal line off of a diving Lundqvist and into the cage for his ninth goal of the season.
Dubinsky answered back for the Rangers less than three minutes later with his first goal of the game. Parked in front of Biron during a Rangers’ power play, Dubinsky had Morris’ slap shot skip off his left skate and trickle over the goal line to tie the contest 1-1 at 8:07.
“It was a fortunate bounce, but when you go to the net, good things happen,” said Dubinsky.
The Flyers answered back with a power-play goal of their own at 12:36 to reclaim a one-goal lead. Philly defenseman Matt Carle and high-scoring center Jeff Carter double-teamed Betts along the left-wing wall, and Carter came away with the puck. Carter then wired a wicked wrist shot over the gloved hand of Lundqvist from the top of the left wing circle to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead.
The goal was Carter’s 46th of the season, making him second in the league in that category to Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who finished the season with 56 goals. The Rangers, of course, will have to contend with Ovechkin once the playoffs begin in a few days.
Before they could think about Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals teammates, however, the Rangers needed to continue to compete against the Flyers on Sunday. And that’s exactly what they did after falling behind 2-1.
Again it was Dubinsky who scored a special-teams goal to pull his team even on the scoreboard. This time Dubinsky scored a shorthanded goal -- the club’s ninth such goal this season -- finishing a 2-on-1 rush with Nik Antropov by gliding from right wing to the middle of the ice and then shooting against the grain to beat Biron past his left pad at 14:47.
The shorthanded goal was the first allowed by the Flyers this season, as they fell one-game shy of becoming only the second team in NHL history to play a full season without allowing a shorthanded tally.
Meanwhile, Dubinsky’s second goal of the game upped his season total to 13, one less than the 14 he scored as a rookie a year ago. The goal also gave Dubinsky 41 points this season, one more than last year.
Things settled down a bit in the second period, as the physical play increased along with stronger defensive commitment from both the Rangers and the Flyers. The only goal of the middle stanza was netted early on as Briere deflected an Alberts slap shot past Lundqvist at 2:19 to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead.
The Rangers best chance to tie the game in the second period came three minutes later, and, ironically, it occurred on another odd-man rush during a penalty kill. This time the Rangers had a 3-on-1 shorthanded break against the Flyers, but Lauri Korpikoski’s backhander sailed high over the crossbar, and the Flyers retained their lead.
Both teams played more physically in the second 20 minutes then they had in the opening period, and Avery played a big role in that. Avery continually irked different Flyers with his aggressive style of play in the second period, in particular drawing the ire of Philly defensemen Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen.
Not content solely with his two-goal effort, Dubinsky also was very engaged physically. And Antropov may have delivered the cleanest and hardest check of the match when he drilled Carter to the ice midway through the second.
After a sound third period, in which the Rangers were the better team and were able to rally for the win, it’s now time to finally look ahead to the post-season. The Rangers and Capitals will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1994, with Games 1 and 2 set to be played in Washington.
“We crawled, scrapped, did everything we could to get in after we were written off a little bit there when we had a little bit of a losing streak,” stated Tortorella. “We bent, but we didn’t break. We held together and found a way to get in. I’m really looking forward to getting this started now.”
|Claude Giroux (9) Snap shot - ASST: Daniel Brière (14), Arron Asham (11)|
1 - 0 PHI
|PPG - Brandon Dubinsky (12) Tip-in - ASST: Derek Morris (14), Nikolay Zherdev (35)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Jeff Carter (46) Snap shot - ASST: Matt Carle (21), Martin Biron (4)|
2 - 1 PHI
|SHG - Brandon Dubinsky (13) Wrist shot - ASST: Nik Antropov (31), Derek Morris (15)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Daniel Brière (11) Deflected shot - ASST: Andrew Alberts (12), Arron Asham (12)|
3 - 2 PHI
|Sean Avery (8) Slapshot - ASST: Scott Gomez (42), Markus Naslund (22)|
3 - 3 Tie
|Blair Betts (6) Backhand shot - ASST: Aaron Voros (8), Wade Redden (23)|
4 - 3 NYR
|Kimmo Timonen Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Brandon Dubinsky Hi-sticking against Michael Richards|
|Sean Avery Slashing against Jeff Carter|
|Derek Morris Hooking against Simon Gagne|
|Arron Asham Cross checking against Sean Avery|
|Michael Richards Hooking against Lauri Korpikoski|
|Claude Giroux Hooking against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Joffrey Lupul Boarding against Sean Avery|
|Scott Hartnell Roughing against Sean Avery|
|Scott Hartnell Roughing against Sean Avery|
|Sean Avery Roughing against Scott Hartnell|
|Sean Avery Roughing against Scott Hartnell|