Wednesday night’s game between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers was hyped up to be an intense and gritty matchup between division rival vying for the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division. Each time these two teams meet they clash and fans expected to see playoff style hockey at Madison Square Garden. Luckily for Rangers fans, the Blueshirts came to play while the lackluster effort of the Flyers led to their demise as the team lost 3-1 and are now three points behind the Rangers in the standings.
Henrik Lundqvist was the story for the Rangers, posting 30 saves on 31 shots, and coming just shy of his 51st career shutout after Jakub Voracek’s one timer beat him over the shoulder with 1:53 left in the game. While it wasn’t a shutout, Lundqvist was at his best and came up big when his team needed a lift. This is the type of hockey Lundqvist will need to continue to play if the Rangers want to make a deep run for the Stanley Cup. He saw the puck well, held his position and exuded confidence. He was on his game and he knew it. More importantly, as Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault stated post game, “When we had some breakdowns, he was the difference.”
The Rangers solid goaltending was supported by the team’s fourth line, which always seems to find a way to contribute. Derek Dorsett opened the scoring at 8:41 in the first to notch his fourth goal of the season. The chance came when Brian Boyle gathered the puck on the boards and threw a pass to open ice in front of the net. Dorsett, sitting at the top of the crease, flipped a backhander over Steve Mason and gave the Rangers the early lead. The fourth line struck again in the third period when Dominic Moore scored the team’s third goal. He redirected Kevin Klein’s shot and the puck trickled between Mason’s legs.
What really seemed to deflate the Flyers was Ryan McDonagh’s goal in the second period. McDonagh stopped a clearing attempt, skated into open ice near the right circle and sent a rising wrist shot into the top right corner of the net. The shot was so powerful that it bounced right back out. After that moment, the game belonged to the Rangers.
The Flyers had their chances. They outshot the Rangers in the first period 15 to six, but weren’t able to figure out how to put the puck past Lundqvist. There were moments when Lundqvist had to make a diving save and there were a few scrambles in front of the net, but for the majority of the game the Flyers looked lost. Their best players, Claude Giroux and Vincent Lecavalier among others, weren’t noticeable on the ice. They weren’t being the difference makers they needed to be in order to pull out a win. And that is a testament to the Rangers defensive game.
“You have to be aware of their top players, and I think we did a really good job of shutting down their top guys,” said Lundqvist. “We have so many guys playing well right now. We are playing with a lot of confidence and making great decisions with and without the puck.”
Speaking of top players, Lundqvist clearly showed why he is so well respected and revered by his teammates, and so did McDonagh. McDonagh has been a force these past few games and a solid defender all season long. He goes up against the league’s top players and has upped his game offensively. He is a smart, well-rounded hockey player who his teammates enjoy watching.
“He’s up the ice creating chances. You can see he’s so confident because he’s such a great skater,” said Lundqvist. “He can be up the ice and be part of the offensive play and if something happens he’s one of the first guys back.”
Fellow defenseman Marc Staal added, “Mac truck [McDonagh] is on fire. You give him the puck, he’s putting everything in.”
The Rangers did dominate the game, but it wasn’t smooth sailing for the entire 60 minutes. The team had to deal with not have Chris Kreider in the lineup due to a hand injury. With Kreider sidelined, the Rangers called up J.T. Miller and the team’s coaching staff needed to rearrange the lines to fill in the gap. Martin St. Louis played on the Rangers top line of Rich Nash and Derek Stepan, Miller played together with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, and Benoit Pouliot joined Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards. With Kreider out indefinitely, the Rangers will need their other players to step up offensively.
Overall, the Blueshirts were able to set the tone of the game early, offset the Flyers game plan and wear them down in the offensive zone. The Rangers were the faster, stronger and better team last night and need to continue this type of play in their upcoming games.
This game very well could have been a first round playoff preview. While the standings could and most likely will shift within the coming weeks, the Rangers and Flyers seem to be on a collision course in the first round. While many are quick to say that the Rangers have the edge due to their solid goaltending and depth, it would be too early to count out the Flyers who have triumphed over a dismal start to the season to become one of the top teams in the league. If these two teams meet, fans can expect to see tighter, rougher and more hostile games then they saw last night at the Garden.