NEW YORK – The difference in the first-round playoff series between Metropolitan Division rivals New York and Philadelphia is the goaltending.
The last line of defense was the first reason to point to in explaining why the Flyers scored four unanswered goals to stun the Rangers in Game 2 of their first-round series, 4-2.
With Steve Mason (upper-body, out indefinitely) missing his second straight game, Flyers goaltender Ray Emery had an inauspicious start. He had allowed two Rangers goals on their first four shots. Martin St. Louis opened the scoring off a pretty passing play from Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, while Benoit Pouliot cashed in on the power play four minutes later.
Through nine minutes, it was still a house of horrors for the Flyers at Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts were buzzing, and the Easter Sunday crowd was roaring.
“I try to stay even-keeled whether it’s going well or you don’t get off to the start you want,” Emery said. “I play with a system in there and I just kind of rely on that. I’ve had leads before and I’ve been down before, so it’s just kind of a consistent approach.”
After the slow start, a funny thing happened. The nine-year NHL veteran started making saves, and the Flyers started to gain confidence in a building they hadn’t won in since Feb. 20, 2011. They cut the Rangers lead to one at 14:14 of the first, when Jakub Voracek deked around Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (21 saves), before tying the game on a Jason Akeson goal 5:45 into the second.
“I think after we got up a couple, we had a hard time making some plays and getting out of our own end,” said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. “They just kept coming with everything they had. We knew they were going to have a better effort than they had in Game 1, and they showed a lot of guts coming back from two down, and getting the lead. They played a pretty strong game.”
Despite the Rangers’ 48-27 advantage in shot attempts through 40 minutes, the Flyers took the lead into the third period when defenseman Luke Schenn deposited the rebound off the rush on a delayed Rangers penalty midway through the second period.
“I knew it was a delayed penalty,” Schenn said. “I figured if they touched the puck it was blown dead anyway, so I decided to jump up on the rush.”
“They were opportunistic in their chances,” said Rangers forward Brad Richards. “I’m not saying they didn’t deserve it – when you work hard you get the bounces, and they got some bounces today. That’s the way it went.”
The Flyers were the aggressors – physically and tactically – when they had to be. Falling behind 2-0 would have been a tough mountain to climb back from, especially against the veteran Rangers. Now, the series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Tuesday night with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1 – the fourth time since 2012 the Rangers have split the first two games of a playoff series.
“This is a good team,” Rangers forward Martin St. Louis said of the Flyers. “By no means did we think this was going to be an easy series. We know we have to be better. We knew that they were going to be better after Game 1, and they were. For us, we have to keep raising our level here.”
In Game 2, the more desperate team went to a second gear when their backs were against the wall. That’s how the playoffs work. Either you respond, or you find yourself one more loss closer to elimination.
“We expected a long series to begin with, so you have to be ready for the next one,” St. Louis said. “Obviously we have to correct the mistakes. We did some good things and we did some bad things, but that’s hockey.” You just have to keep pushing, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Rangers lost Game 2 of a playoff series for the seventh straight time. Their last win in a Game 2 was during the conference quarterfinals in 2009, when they lost to the Capitals in seven games.
The Flyers blocked 22 Rangers shot attempts. Including shots blocked and shots wide, the Rangers held a 65-44 advantage in shots attempted.
The Rangers were 1-for-6 on the power play. They’ve scored in four straight playoff games dating back to last year’s conference semifinals, their longest such streak since the 2008 postseason.
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