It would’ve been easy for them to just give up after the loss of their captain. In an emotionally charged game that saw Wayne Simmonds knockout Ryan McDonagh literally with a left hook leading to a match penalty, the Rangers dug deep for a huge 3-2 comeback win over the Broad Street Bullies in a shootout.
The fireworks started early with Chris Kreider catching Simmonds with a tough hit. Seeking retribution, the Flyers’ power forward took a McDonagh crosscheck and went right after him. In a controversial play that refs Dave Lewis and Kelly Sutherland ruled a match which led to an automatic ejection, Simmonds punched McDonagh with his glove still on knocking him to the ice. The emotional leader stayed down leading to a furious Simmonds tossing his stick in protest. No doubt he’ll be getting a phone call from the NHL Department Player Of Safety.
Was his sucker punch worth a game? Probably not. But McDonagh left the game and didn’t return. So, both teams lost a key player. For a majority of the heated contest, especially in a lopsided second period that saw the Flyers get the game’s first goal and outshoot the Rangers 20-8, the Philly hosts held the territorial edge. They forechecked the heck out of a shorthanded Blueshirts who were down to five defensemen.
Minus McDonagh, it was ugly. Coach Alain Vigneault was forced to play Keith Yandle, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Dan Boyle heavy minutes. They all received over 24 minutes with Yandle leading the way with 27:33. It was fitting that he got the tying goal with 12.9 seconds left in regulation. Especially after I critiqued him. More on that later.
In what was a oddly officiated game that saw McDonagh get two for crosschecking and two for hi-sticking along with Simmonds major, the Rangers wound up with a rare one-minute power play. Of course, they got nothing off it. Almost immediately, Henrik Lundqvist stoned Jakub Voracek on a breakaway getting a piece of his backhand. He also made two more saves afterwards keeping the game scoreless. Voracek never should’ve been on the ice. The Flyers didn’t have anyone serve the penalty. He came off the bench too soon. Bang up job there.
After surviving the early part of the second when the Flyers turned the heat up, a bogus “hooking” call on Dominic Moore led to what else but another penalty kill failure. Both Daniel Paille and Girardi left the front of the net vacated. Staal also wasn’t in the picture. The mass confusion allowed Flyers’ rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere to fake and then snap a seeing eye shot through a maze of traffic past Lundqvist for his ninth on the power play, breaking a scoreless tie at 7:16 from Voracek and Claude Giroux.
Pinned in their own end for long stretches, the Rangers could only thank Lundqvist for keeping them close. He made 19 saves in the period. Things continued to escalate when Oscar Lindberg had enough of Scott Laughton and Matt Read. After being hauled down with of course no call, he took matters into his own hands knocking down Laughton to jeers and then getting into his first fight against Read. A wrestling match Read wanted no part of. Lindberg did get an extra two for a crosscheck handing the Flyers another power play.
This time, it was short lived. Thanks to a superb defensive read from Derek Stepan, he went around two Flyers drawing a Laughton hook 1:16 late later to even it up. Despite not making Steve Mason work for two periods, they still trailed by one. At that point, Mason had stopped all 15 shots. Aside from the usual Chris Kreider chance, he didn’t face much pressure.
The third was a different story. With the Flyers opting to sit back, they allowed the Rangers to dictate. With the Stepan line applying pressure, Kreider struck for a second consecutive game notching the tying goal at 3:16. Off a Mats Zuccarello cycle and pass back to Girardi at the point, the alternate captain got a wrist shot through that Kreider redirected in for his 11th. Girardi’s shot was headed wide until Kreider neatly deflected it over Mason for a important goal.
But with the Rangers searching for more, Kreider had a great opportunity in front with Mason down. Rather than shoot, he passed. It soon became another Ranger power play of toss the puck around like a grenade. Eventually, Gostisbehere hit Ryan White with a nice outlet allowing him to pull up and beat Lundqvist short side, allowing the Flyers to retake the lead 2:30 later. It looked like a crusher similar to the one Lundqvist gave up to Devils’ rookie Joseph Blandisi. Just about every Blueshirt fan was up in arms over that softy. Something that’s becoming a bad trend for our franchise netminder.
Even with White’s shot being the only one the Flyers got all period, it looked like it would stand up. They went into prevent mode. After struggling to get Lundqvist off, the Rangers finally got enough forecheck pressure to get a chance. Vigneault went with his best two offensive defensemen. Minus McDonagh, that’s Yandle and Boyle, who hasn’t done much since December. But this time, he was involved in the key sequence. Getting the puck to Jesper Fast, who passed across for a Yandle one-timer that found twine at 19:47. A huge tying goal with Boyle standing in front.
Given the circumstances with the Devils getting a point in a tough shootout loss to the Caps and the Isles losing badly to the Red Wings, it was imperative for the Rangers to come away with points. Had they not, the Flyers would’ve been up to 56. Of course, the Pens found a way to come back and stun the Panthers with three goals from Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby, further damaging my team’s chances at first place in our fantasy hockey league. It didn’t help that Martin Jones got pelted by normally low scoring Nashville. Yikes. Anyway, the Pens are up to 59 points as are the Devs. But Pittsburgh holds the edge for the second wildcard due to the tiebreaker. Detroit has 60 and is the first wildcard.
The three-on-three overtime was oddly played. The Flyers didn’t get one shot meaning they had one total shot in the final 25 minutes. Yet that one shot went in. Had they won, it would’ve been sickening. Especially with Simmonds injuring our captain. Who knows what McDonagh’s status is. Ironically, Yandle was also involved with former Ranger Michael Del Zotto. Each battled getting matching minors in the final minute. The Rangers got the lone two shots but didn’t score.
For the third time in the season series, the bitter rivals went to a shootout. It was the Blueshirts who prevailed for the second time thanks to goals from Zuccarello in Round 1 and Stepan in Round 2. Following Sam Gagner’s miss, Zuccarello completely faked out Mason tucking in a forehand for a 1-0 lead. Lundqvist then stuck with Giroux kicking out his low shot setting the stage for Stepan. A player who usually steps up in the clutch, he did just that skating in and going top shelf to give the Rangers a big win.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Oscar Lindberg, NYR (his first scrap earns him this-thought it was great)
2nd Star-Mats Zuccarello, NYR (assist, sick shootout winner, +1 in 23 shifts-18:21-game seems to be coming)
1st Star-Keith Yandle, NYR (game-tying goal at 19:47-4th, 13 shot attempts, +1 in 33 shifts-27:33-proved his worth)