Ranger Win Sets Up Final Showdown
It all comes down to this for the Rangers. A season full of ups and even more downs will be defined by the outcome of just one game. Win and they’re in, lose and they clean out their lockers and make tee times at their home town golf courses.
As frustrating as this season has been for Rangers fans; as often as we have accepted the mediocrity of the team; and as much as we may have just hoped for a tank job and the resulting high draft pick that would have come with it, now that we are here there isn’t a single Rangers fan that doesn’t want this game more than any other regular season game in recent memory. The last thing that we could stomach would be an elimination loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Just getting to this point took a victory last night in the first half of the home-and-home with the Flyers. The Rangers did their best to make it as difficult and exciting as possible. After a great chance right off the bat, Marc Staal made an ill-advised pass in his own zone which was intercepted by Flyers Captain Mike Richards who converted the miscue into the first goal of the game.
Fortunately for the Rangers, the Flyers propensity for taking penalties helped the Blue Shirts even the score after the Flyers seemed to control the play for the better part of the first 6 minutes. Villain to all Rangers fans, Dan Carcillo, was whistled for a high-sticking double minor when his stick caught Brandon Prust in the face while attempting to lift the lumber of the Rangers forward.
Chris Drury was the beneficiary just 1:36 into the first PP when he converted a centering feed from Erik Christensen into the Rangers first goal. The Blue Shirts took the lead at 10:13 when Brandon Prust came through yet again. He outworked the Flyer forward opposite him on the faceoff, got to the puck and found Ranger enforcer Jody Shelley alone in front of the cage. Shelley beat Brian Boucher for his first goal as a Blue Shirt and his first in his last 62 NHL games.
Brandon Dubinsky helped increase the lead to 2 with his 20th of the season off a feed from Marian Gaborik. Danny Brier got the Flyers back within one just 1:28 later when he one-timed a Simon Gagne pass by Lundqvist.
The Flyers evened the score at 3 with Mike Richards netting his second of the game of a great outlet pass from Flyer defenseman Chris Pronger. Pronger corralled a loose puck in the defensive zone and found Richards streaking up the ice. The puck hit Richards in stride and he was off to the races. A couple of Rangers attempted to get back and disrupt Richards and appeared to have succeeded in not allowing a great scoring chance but Michael Rozsival saw a missed shot/loose puck hit his skate and beat Lundqvist under the left pad.
I can only speak for myself but I am sure all Rangers fans felt the same as I was at that moment. I was convinced that the Rangers would blow it. I just knew that the Flyers would score again and we would be beaten on home ice by a hated rival, eliminating us from the playoff hunt.
Maybe fortune was smiling on the Blue Shirts last night though. After an offensive zone turnover, the puck was thrown back to Pronger in the neutral zone. The notoriously choppy MSG ice then reared its head, playing a role in the tie-breaking goal. As the puck neared Pronger, the puck bounced over his stick and Marian Gaborik was right there to take advantage. He closed in on Boucher and released a wrister from the left wing aimed over Boucher’s left shoulder. The puck deflected slightly off the stick of Flyers’ defenseman Matt Carle which may have factored in Boucher not being able to stop the shot.
With the lead and heading into the 3rd period, Henrik Lundqvist saved his best for last. The King has been quite as royal this year. Of his 5 NHL seasons, this is probably his worst. Of course, even in a below-average season for Lundqvist, he is still a very good goaltender. In fact, I would hazard to guess that there are at least 20 – 25 teams that would trade their starter for Lundqvist straight up and with all things being equal.
Lundqvist made 10 3rd period saves en route to the victory. This win now sets the stage for a winner-take-all game 82 on Sunday in Philadelphia. It’s going to be another chance for Lundqvist, Gaborik et al to steal another win for the Blue Shirts and propel this team into the postseason.
As improbable as it may have seemed just two weeks ago, the Rangers are in full control of their destiny. If they come out and play the way they are capable of and with the Rangers advantage in net, I like the Rangers chances of continuing their season. I just hope that they somehow move up to the 7th seed for a possible matchup with the New Jersey Devils. Avery vs. Brodeur. Avery vs. Kovalchuk. Now that’s some fun stuff.