The Rangers salvaged a point last Friday night in their 4-3 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center and remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but edged closer to the Atlantic Division title. Going into the game, they had won seven straight times in Philadelphia, but the way the contest transpired, they have to be satisfied with earning one point.
Instead of their usual tactics of trying to intimidate their opponents by bullying them and playing an up tempo game, the Flyers adopted a much more conservative style and suffocated the Rangers with solid defense. The change in strategy by coach John Stevens worked very well until late in the final period, when the defense on both sides suddenly vacated the premises.
Regulation ended in a 3-3 deadlock which was shocking considering that there was just one goal scored in the first 50 minutes of action. After an ineffective five minute overtime, the shootout determined the winner. It was no contest as both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter beat Stephen Valiquette while Brendan Shanahan surprisingly missed the net on his first round attempt and Martin Biron stopped a snapshot from Nigel Dawes. There was no need for the third round and the Flyers finally got a victory over the Blueshirts at home.
Mike Richards opened the scoring with an unassisted breakaway goal at 4:37 when he took advantage of a poor play by Marek Malik at the blue line. The goal ended a nice shutout streak by Valiquette who had consecutive shutouts against the Flyers going into the game. The Flyers took a 1-0 lead going into the locker room after one and outshot the Rangers 8-7.
The second period was scoreless and pretty dull (shots again favored the home team 11-7) as was the first half of the final frame; both teams were committed to shutting the opponent down and giving precious few quality scoring opportunities. The Rangers weren’t skating with high energy and were playing shorthanded (Blair Betts is gone for several games and Scott Gomez suffered bruised ribs in the first and didn’t return).
At 10:50 though, first star of the game Daniel Briere doubled the Flyers lead and the way the game was going, that looked like a pretty safe edge. But Malik responded with just his second goal of the season slightly over a minute later on a long range slap shot that somehow eluded Biron. It was a crucial goal that gave the Rangers some much needed momentum and for Malik, it was some retribution for his earlier blunder.
With some renewed vigor, the Blueshirts picked up their play and Dawes evened the score at two (his 12th) at 13:49 when his shot glanced off Patrick Thoresen’s leg. It was quite an unexpected turnaround as the previously stymied offense awakened. But the Flyers were desperate and their determination did not waiver; Briere notched his second of the game and 28th of the season at 16:23 to restore the Flyers’ lead.
The Rangers, however, were not done either. Jaromir Jagr backhanded the tying goal from a very sharp angle at 18:09 (his 19th) and once again, the Flyers were in jeopardy of blowing another late advantage. But in the end, they survived and came away with the extra point that was way more important to them than the Rangers. Christian Backman had his best game as a Ranger by assisting on all three goals. Valiquette finished with 27 saves in a losing effort and Biron stopped 23 shots for the victory.
Both teams get to do it again on Tuesday night at MSG.