NEW YORK – There are many reasons a hockey team needs to be resilient in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Perhaps their opponent has scored early. Perhaps they’re struggling to put pucks past the opponent’s star goaltender.
Or perhaps, it’s because the team feels like the world is against them.
Sunday afternoon in a crucial Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, as the calls from the officials continued to mount against them, the Rangers showed their resiliency and fought off the Flyers 4-2, to take a 3-2 series lead. They can eliminate the Flyers in Game 6 on Tuesday.
The perceived indignities started three minutes into the game, when Carl Hagelin was called for the first of his three minor penalties. Hagelin was trailing Claude Giroux, who slid into Henrik Lundqvist’s net after whiffing while driving towards the crease. Despite what appeared to be minimal contact, Hagelin was called for slashing. It was the first of four straight penalties the Rangers killed off.
The moment, though, that had the Garden crowd roaring with disapproval came at 2:14 of the second, when Martin St. Louis appeared to jam the puck home behind Steve Mason (18 saves). But referee Justin St. Pierre, who was in the corner within clear view of the play, lost sight of the puck and quickly blew the play dead.
“I heard the whistle,” St. Louis said. “I was very disappointed when I heard the whistle. This is such a fast game. Obviously at the time I’m upset with the call, but it is what it is.”
“If you want to win, you’re going to get a lot of different things come at you,” said Brad Richards. “It’s got to be even-keel. They’re doing their best trying to make the calls they see fit, they’re not trying to do anything else other than that. If they don’t see it, you try to talk to them. I’ve never seen a call changed, so you have to take that, build off it, and use it as motivation.”
The Rangers, who thought they had a 2-0 lead, scored for real just under six minutes later when Brad Richards shoved home the rebound after J.T. Miller, playing his first-career playoff game, had an initial chance.
“It didn’t bother us at all; it actually made us work a little harder,” said Dan Girardi of the no-goal call. “After that, to come back and get a couple more says a lot about our team.”
“Once you drop the puck again, you have to refocus,” St. Louis said. “Obviously it’s disappointing, but you can’t let it affect your next shift.”
With 3:40 left in the second, Dominic Moore took the puck away from Hal Gill, playing due to an injury to Nicklas Grossmann. Moore beat Mason, then jumped into the arms of Brian Boyle, the two of them tumbling to the Garden ice as the 18,006 fans at the Garden roared and waived their white rally towels.
“He was pretty excited, huh? It didn’t feel good! We’re happy for him, obviously,” Boyle said of the exuberant celebration. “I’ve gotten really close to Dom. To see how hard he’s worked, how much he’s come through for us, and what a big part of the team he’s been is huge. And that goal was just enormous for us.”
“It’s just another guy in our depth,” Richards said. “We’ve prided ourselves on it all year. We play four lines, everybody has a different role. He’s a big PK guy, and face-offs today he was unbelievable. That’s our M.O. You can’t have that if you don’t have a good fourth line, and he makes that fourth line go.”
With under two minutes left in the second and the Rangers crashing the net, Anton Stralman got pushed into Mason by Mark Streit, though Stralman was called for goaltender interference. The Flyers scored on the ensuing power play when Vincent Lecavalier’s shot deflected past Lundqvist (24 saves) off the leg of Kevin Klein.
The Rangers locked it down from there, fending off an extra-attacker goal by Claude Giroux and adding an empty-netter by Boyle, forcing the Flyers into a do-or-die Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
“We have to be more desperate than them,” Girardi said of the game-plan heading into Tuesday. “They’re going to be on the brink of elimination, and they’re going to throw everything they have at us, especially at their home building where it’s loud. They’ll have a lot of energy, and we just have to make sure we match it – match their energy, hopefully exceed it at the start and create some momentum that way.”
“We’re going to get their most desperate, intense game [on Tuesday],” Richards said. “But we’ve been in that building, and we’ve played well in there.”
The Rangers are 13-2 all-time when leading a series 3-2 after Game 5, but haven’t closed out a series in less than seven games since the 2008 conference quarterfinals, when they defeated the Devils in five games.
The Rangers have won 11 of their last 16 playoff games at MSG, and have won at least two home games in four of their last six playoff series.
Dominic Moore, who’s played in 50 career playoff games, had never before scored goals in back-to-back playoff games. He scored the Rangers’ first goal in Friday’s Game 4.
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