One Pennsylvania team down, one to go. The New York Rangers were able to stave off the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 with a 2-1 win last night at Madison Square Garden and have secured a matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two.
”We played a really strong series. I think we were the better team,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “We pushed the pace almost every game. We definitely earned this one.”
Although one day removed from a lackluster Game 6, the Rangers had a few statistical advantages coming into the final game of the series. On home ice, the Blueshirts were 5-0 in Game 7s (now 6-0), while the Flyers have struggled to win at MSG; the team has only won one game out of their last 11. With the stats on their side, the Rangers just had to play a complete game by blocking shots, shutting down Philly’s top line and using their speed to pester the Flyers defense—which is the weakest part of their team.
The Rangers dominance in the second period is what helped them secure the win. The Rangers assaulted goaltender Steve Mason with 18 shots, while only allowing the Flyers to answer with five of their own. The Blueshirts controlled the puck and generated chances, and ended the period with a two-goal lead.
“We played a really good second. We kept the pace up, short shifts, everybody was involved, and we killed a couple of big penalties and buried some goals,” said Brad Richards. “We kind of just took over that period.”
Daniel Carcillo, who was benched the past two games for speedster J.T. Miller, was back in the lineup and ended up being the difference maker for the Rangers. The coaching staff understood the need for experience in a Game 7 situation, and decided Carcillo was better suited for the lineup. He broke through for the Rangers 3:06 into the second after coming out of the penalty box and crashing the net. The Blueshirts were called for too many men on the ice, but were able to kill off the penalty and turn the situation into an opportunity. Mats Zuccarello threw a no-look pass that went between the legs of Flyers defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Braydon Coburn and found Carcillo on the other side. Carcillo slightly redirected the puck that beat a sliding Mason.
“When you’re in, you try to do something to stay in, whether it be offensively or bring a lot of energy,” Carcillo said. ”That’s just what I was trying to do every time I was in this series.”
A little less than 10 minutes later, Benoit Pouliot scored the goal that would turn out to be the game winner. Pouliot needed to redeem himself in this series. He had taken costly penalties over the past few games, and needed to get back to playing smart hockey. He looked true to form last night, connecting with Zuccarello and Derick Brassard and creating chances. Pouliot cashed in on a heads-up play by Brassard who threaded a pass from the right-wing boards to Pouliot in the slot, and Pouliot wasted no time sending a slapshot past Mason and into the back of the net.
Those two goals were all the Rangers would need to secure the win. But the Flyers weren’t going to give up so easily. After being dominated in the second, the Flyers gained some life in the third because in a do-or-die situation any team is going to leave everything on the ice. While staying disciplined, the Flyers found themselves spending more time in the offensive zone and held the Rangers to zero shots in the first seven minutes.
It didn’t take long for the Flyers to cut the lead in half. Less than five minutes into the third Jason Akeson entered the zone near the right-side boards. He attempted a shot that was blocked by Marc Staal, but the rebound came directly back to Akeson who fired a shot that entered the net over Lundqvist’s right shoulder. Only down one goal, the Flyers continued to push and pulled Mason with two minutes left in the game, but Lundqvist stonewalled their final attempts.
Even though Mason, who made 31 saves, was not able to hold off the Rangers like he did in Game 6, he was outstanding in goal for the Flyers. If he started the series healthy it may have had a totally different outcome. Mason’s play in the past two games is something to be admired as he frustrated the Rangers top line and prevented the Blueshirts from running away with the game. He kept the Flyers in last night’s game, but in order to win all the pieces have to fit together and that wasn’t the case for Philly.
Overall, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was happy with his team’s performance.
“We played a good game,” he said. “We played the game the way we needed to play and were able to pull it off.”
The Rangers will have one day to celebrate their victory before taking on their other Metropolitan Division rival the Pittsburgh Penguins. In order for the Rangers to continue their success they are going to have to gain some traction on their power play. The Rangers have not been able to convert on the power play in their past 21 opportunities. If this continues, the team will have a very big disadvantage against a team that has strong special teams.
“You don’t dwell on losses and you don’t cherish wins too much in the playoffs,” said Richards. “You got to get on to the next battle.”
That’s exactly what the Rangers will do Friday night in Pittsburgh for Game 1 of the series against the Penguins.