Emery outplays Lundqvist, Flyers even series


Ray Emery stops a shot with Jesper Fast searching for a rebound.  AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Ray Emery stops a shot with Jesper Fast searching for a rebound.
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Before the series, the Flyers knew starter Steve Mason would be out. That meant veteran Ray Emery. In Game 1, the Rangers were able to expose him laterally. Today, they were stoned by the Flyer backup, who finished with 31 saves to lead his team to a hard fought 4-2 win taking Game 2 to even the first round series. Along with three unanswered goals, that allowed Philadelphia to finally break the MSG curse winning for the first time since Feb. 20, 2011.

For the Rangers, it’s a lost opportunity. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, they let the Flyers off the hook. Ironically, it’s the sixth straight time they’ve lost Game 2 at home since 1994. Now, the series shifts to Philly with momentum on the Flyers side. They earned it by outworking, outhustling and out-muscling the Rangers. Despite falling behind by two, indeed the Flyers were the more desperate team. That even included a heroic performance from Emery, who after allowing two early didn’t get beat again. He outplayed Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 21 saves.

Easter Sunday started out promising for the Broadway side. Following a Flyer penalty kill of a Wayne Simmonds hold, Martin St. Louis got the Rangers on the scoreboard first when he buried his first off a brilliant cross ice feed from Derek Stepan. Rick Nash started the play by taking advantage of a sloppy Philadelphia turnover in the neutral zone. He came in three on two feeding Stepan in the slot, who easily could’ve shot. Instead, the unselfish playmaking pivot dished across for St. Louis, who made no mistake.

Even though they started better than Game 1, the Flyers dug themselves an early two-goal hole. An undisciplined Sean Couturier rough resulted in the Rangers’ third power play goal of the series. Off a rush started by Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard walked into the Philly zone and found an isolated Benoit Pouliot for a quick one-timer Emery had no chance on. A beautiful set up with the Rangers once again exposing Emery’s movement side to side. Of the five goals they’ve scored so far, three have come by moving the puck laterally.

With the crowd in a frenzy, Carl Hagelin took a bad offensive zone holding minor that halted momentum. Even though the Flyers didn’t score on the power play, it allowed them to regain an edge. Continuing to play a physical brand of hockey, they were harder on the puck and able to finally establish themselves. Despite testing Lundqvist more, it was a goal in transition that turned the tide. Heavily criticized after Game 1, the Flyers’ top line struck thanks to a strong power move from Jakub Voracek, who notched his first. Claude Giroux forced a turnover, allowing Scott Hartnell to push the puck ahead for Voracek, who cut around Ryan McDonagh and beat Lundqvist for a huge goal cutting the deficit to 2-1. McDonagh struggled throughout and Lundqvist committed too early, leaving an open side.

The Rangers got a third chance on the power play with Voracek off for a slash. But they got nothing done. The Flyers penalty kill would be a factor. They killed off five of six due to more aggressive play. Combined with critical stops from Emery, that proved to be a difference. They also were able to draw key penalties. The Rangers cooperated by losing discipline. I could care less if our fans didn’t like a couple of the calls. They got sucked in. One such penalty taken by Anton Stralman (interference) resulted in Jason Akeson tying it 5:45 into the second. The goat the other night, Akeson pounced on a rebound off a hard Vincent Lecavalier one-timer. Brayden Schenn helped set it up.

It took until the fifth period of the series for the Flyers to get the Rangers into their kind of game. A physical, in your face affair featuring numerous scrums and penalties. If there was a bad call, it was the one on Zuccarello for diving after Andrew MacDonald was nabbed for interference. He clearly took him down, which is why it was a strange call. Despite crowd protests, Kimmo Timonen went off for holding 18 seconds later giving the Blueshirts a great four on three opportunity. But they failed to capitalize with Emery making big saves including one on Rick Nash off a turnover, robbing him point blank. He also pounded on the rebound.

Throughout, the Rangers were unable to establish a consistent forecheck. Their most effective line was Brassard, Pouliot and Zuccarello. Outside of Stepan’s set up for St. Louis, that unit struggled. Brad Richards was decent on the power play getting shots through but his line wasn’t a factor. Jesper Fast struggled with the Flyers’ physicality only getting 14 shifts (8:49 TOI). Don’t be surprised if he sits out Game 3. Daniel Carcillo or J.T. Miller are probably better options.

With the game tied, the Flyers took their first lead of the series thanks to defenseman Luke Schenn, who scored his first on a delayed penalty. They took advantage of some overexertion from the Rangers’ top line who got caught deep. Michael Raffl fed Adam Hall for a shot which caromed off Lundqvist right to Schenn, who buried it at 11:18. Lundqvist’s rebound control wasn’t good. He allowed rebound goals on the Flyers’ last two. Normally, he’s better than that. He’ll have to adjust when the series shifts to Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Thirteen seconds following Schenn’s tally, the teams mixed it up post whistle. Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Derek Dorsett and Dominic Moore were all sent off. A diving call on Dorsett led to more jeers from the Garden who let the refs know about it. Whether or not you agree with the officiating, the Rangers simply weren’t good enough. They have no one to blame but themselves. They fell into the Flyers’ trap and didn’t work as hard. In the second half of the stanza, they generated opportunities including another diagonal set up for Stepan which Emery got across on and denied. He anticipated plays better making up for a lack of athleticism.

The Flyers would kill off two more penalties. They escaped trouble on one thanks to more big stops from Emery. Without hesitation, he was their best player. Not bad for a guy who was the butt of many jokes after the first game. He did let out rebounds but no Ranger was able to cash in. Credit the Flyer defense for doing a good job boxing out. After giving up 17 second period shots, they held the Rangers to seven in the third. With the exception of an Emery point blank robbery on Zuccarello, the other six were from the perimeter.

In the final period, Philadelphia played more disciplined. In fact, on the one time they were penalized, they got a better opportunity with Lundqvist forced to make a difficult sliding glove save on a Hall shorthanded bid. He made his best two saves in the third to give the Rangers a chance. But they were mostly neutralized by a Flyer D that bent but didn’t break. They allowed Emery to see the shots and he did the job.

With Lundqvist uncertain whether to go off for an extra attacker, he cost the Rangers any realistic chance. Richards came onto the ice with Lundqvist still not on the bench leading to a mind numbing bench minor for too many men. It made no sense. I initially blamed Alain Vigneault but what the heck was Lundqvist doing? The Rangers had puck possession behind the Flyers net and he waited. Chalk it up to an ill timed miscommunication. It typified an unsatisfying day.

Now, the series is even. The Rangers will put their road mastery to a test. If they can stay away from the foolishness that we saw today, they should be fine. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond. The Flyers have to feel good about themselves. Able to gain a split in a building they’ve had no success in, they know if they hold serve, the pressure’s squarely on the Rangers. They did it without Mason. We’ll see what happens in Game 3.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Claude Giroux, Flyers (assist, 2 takeaways, 2 blocks, +2 in 20:19-no shots but led by example)

2nd Star-Luke Schenn, Flyers (goal-1st of series for game decider, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots, +1 in 17:40)

1st Star-Ray Emery, Flyers (31 saves on 33 shots incl. 24/24 final 2 periods)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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