Mike Richards backhanded overtime winner lifted the visiting Philadelphia Flyers to their fourth consecutive victory, a 2-1 decision over the Rangers last night at the Garden to inch them to within one point of the sixth place Blueshirts in the Eastern Conference. With less than two weeks left in the regular season, much confusion still exists in the bottom half of the qualifying spots of the conference. Prior to this winning streak, the Flyers were about to fall out of playoff contention. Now they have beaten the Ranges in back-to-back games that couldn’t be decided in regulation.
Even though the Rangers earned a point in each of the last two losses, the bigger issue is that their power-play hasn’t scored in about a month (a pathetic one for 29 over a nine game span) and overall their offense has relapsed into the inept ineffectiveness that was displayed for much of the season before they went on their 13-game streak of earning at least one point every time.
The Rangers got off to a great start when Jaromir Jagr spun around and whipped a wrist shot past Martin Biron just 1:41 into the first period. It was his 20th goal and marked the 17th consecutive season he has scored at least 20 goals. Jagr’s tally held up for over 45 minutes of ice time as both clubs settled into a tight, defensively sound style that prevented many good scoring chances. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Biron were strong but didn’t get tested all that often. Shots for the first two periods favored the Blueshirts 21-12.
In the final frame, the Rangers seemed satisfied with their slim one-goal lead and tried to protect it, but that strategy backfired, as it often does. Daniel Briere scored his 30th at 7:32 when Vaclav Prospal returned a pass from him right in front of Lundqvist. Regulation ended in a 1-1 deadlock and the overtime ensued.
Just after the two minute mark, Sean Avery made a blind pass in the offensive zone that was intercepted by Jason Smith, who the found Richards behind the defense. With Marek Malik chasing, the first star of the game converted on the partial breakaway (his 27th) when he backhanded a soft shot past Lundqvist on his glove side. Malik should have done everything to collar Richards, even if it meant taking a penalty and giving the Flyers a penalty shot. But Malik’s effort to stop Richards was woeful.
Biron finished with 31 saves for the win while Lundqvist made 23. The Rangers were without Scott Gomez for the first time this season and it was noticeable. His offensive talent was sorely missed. While the Blueshirts continue to look upwards in the standings (they are just two points behind New Jersey and Ottawa for fourth and fifth respectively), they must still be aware of their position as they are not locked into anything as of yet.
The Devils are in town on Thursday night for another crucial match.