The New York Rangers opened the 2014 Stanley Cup Tournament at the World’s Most Famous Arena with a matchup (their 11th in the post-season) against their long-time rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. Playing in front of an actual fired up crowd, as opposed to the usual regular season corporate audience, the Blueshirts looked to come out and set the tone against their neighbors to the south.
And set the tone they did, outplaying the Flyers for much of the first. Yet, as has been the case so many times this season, the Rangers gave up the game’s first goal. On the Flyers first shot of the match at 7:28, newly-signed Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald sent a slapper on net that deflected off Martin St. Louis high in the zone and sailed in over Henrik Lundqvist shoulder. Behind the Rangers net, Scott Hartnell banged Ryan McDonagh off the puck (can you tell McD was a bit rusty?) and sent a pass to MacDonald at the left point and as St. Louis skated out to block the shot if tipped off his stick and changed direction from a low shot to a high shot and Hank had no chance.
Down a goal early on home ice, the Rangers didn’t crumble. The Blueshirts answered back with some extra effort from their Extra Effort Award winner. Marc Staal pinched along the strong side wall and sent the puck into the corner where Benoit Pouliot outworked Braydon Coburn and took the puck to the front of the net where he lost it in the slot, but directly to Mats Zuccarello. Zucc fired a shot on net that Ray Emery kicked back into the slot and The Oslo Magician™ blew by Sean Coutourier and backhanded his own rebound by Emery five-hole, tying the game at 10:53 of the first.
The Rangers outplayed Philadelphia in the frame and closed the period outshooting the Flyers 14-6, but tied at 1-1.
The middle frame was a more closely played affair. Lundqvist stopped all eight shots he faced and Emery turned aside all nine NYR shots.
Heading to the final frame, the game could have gone either way. Despite holding the advantage in play, a fluke or a bad bounce and the Rangers could have found themselves down in the series with home ice surrendered. When Ryan McDonagh was whistled for high-sticking 46 seconds in, the Flyers had a golden opportunity to potentially steal the game. But the NYR PK (without McD) didn’t allow the Flyers single shot and seven minutes later the game changed.
Flyers rookie Jason Akeson threw a booming hit on Carl Hagelin at center ice, but as he finished his check, he swung his stick around and blasted Hagelin in the mouth, cutting him and earning a double minor for high-sticking. With, the Garden crowd energized at the PP opportunities, the Rangers man-advantage unit went to work.
Derek Stepan carried the puck into the Flyers zone and hit St. Louis at the blueline where MSL gave the puck back to Step along the left wing wall. D-Step continued the puck to Rick Nash behind the goal line and the big guy wheeled a backhand pass to St. Louis in the slot. MSL’s shot hit off Kimo Timonen’s skate and caromed directly to Brad Richards in the off-wing circle and B-Rich clobbered a slapper high short-side by Emery to give the Rangers the lead.
The Rangers PP unit cashed in on the second half of the double minor with some more excellent puck movement. Richards threw a d-to-d pass across the blueline to McDonagh and the Rangers MVP faked out Coutourier with a Brian Leetch inside-outside move. McD sent a back-door pass to St. Louis that Marty touched to Richards at the point. B-Rich then blasted a shot/pass to a wide open Stepan on the doorstep and the center buried it in the gaping net sending the fired-up MSG crowd into hysterics.
With 4:08 remaining, the Rangers made it 4-1, again led by Richards. After Timmonen rang one of the post, Richards cleared the rebound to Jesper Fast and took a return pass breaking out with Fast and Hagelin. Richards cut across the blueline, around a falling Brayden Schenn, and send a shot on Emery, that was kicked out to an uncovered Hagelin for the easy put back.
Down three and with only one shot on goal in the third, the clearly frustrated Flyers started their typical goon tactics but the Rangers didn’t bite. Zack Rinaldo was up to his usual tricks and Captain Claude Giroux slashed at everyone in blue and even swung his stick at Dominic Moore’s head for some unknown reason. Giroux was obviously flummoxed by the suffocating defense of McDonagh and Girardi and the swarming presence of the Moore-Boyle-Dorsett line. The Blueshirts will need to keep that pressure on the Flyers best player as the series moves on, and they’ll most likely have to keep their heads up against the stick-swinging star.
There are three ingredients needed for a successful playoff run: health, goaltending and special teams. If the Rangers can survive, the beating and cheapshots they are sure to take, the have the goaltending and the skilled pp to make a very deep run.
Brad Richards, the beaver-toothed former superstar who we love to hate, had an excellent game. He was decent at even strength and was money on the power play. B-Rich had a big game in a big spot, and hopefully he continues to for the next two months.
Lundqvist had a relatively easy game and the defense gave Giroux and the skilled Flyers forwards nothing. McD was a bit off his game. He looked rusty and fought the puck a little bit, but he will surely benefit from getting his legs under him in the W.
Right now, one game in, things look pretty good for the NYR. However, the Stanley Cup isn’t decided after the first game and the Rangers will need to build off their strong play in the opener. Despite how well they played, the NYR were a bad bounce away from losing this game all the way into the third period and a poor effort, or a bad bounce in game two and the Blueshirts could find themselves tied and lose home ice advantage. Game two is critical. The Rangers need to put this one away and come out with the same intensity on Easter Sunday.