This one had some juice to it. From the outset, the guys dressed in the more traditional home white, red and blue played with purpose. The Rangers avenged their captain Ryan McDonagh in orderly fashion. In soundly defeating the Flyers 3-1 at an energized MSG in the classic rivals’ final regular season meeting, they delivered the message to Wayne Simmonds.
After exchanging words during warm ups, rookie Dylan McIlrath squared off with Simmonds at center ice only 39 seconds into the game. The big 6-5, 220 pound defenseman slugged it out with the smaller 6-2, 183 pound Simmonds, who did well even though he took some heavy shots including one that cut his eye. To his credit, the Flyers’ power forward accepted McIlrath’s invitation and went toe to toe. There was no instigator. Just two big men exchanging blows which made Simmonds accountable for his actions.
”I wanted to send a message. I wanted to stick up for my teammate, our captain, our best player,” McIlrath said following the Rangers’ fifth win in six. ”I can respect him for squaring up with me, and I’m just happy how it all worked out.”
With the crowd still buzzing, Tanner Glass delivered a big hit that drew more cheers. It eventually led to a second scrap 20 seconds later with Flyers’ forward Ryan White. Again, two big men squared off at center stage and traded punches before Glass got the take down to more loud cheers. In each instance, there was no instigator. Just two clean fights in the first minute that set the tone. The Rangers wouldn’t be pushed around in their home building.
”They wanted to do something about it. That’s how hockey goes,” Simmonds replied after facing McIlrath for concussing McDonagh with a gloved punch in response to receiving a crosscheck to the head. ”He wanted to fight.”
Playing a more physical game, the Rangers didn’t back off. Most notably, proud vets Marc Staal and Dan Girardi with the latter delivering another throwback game finishing with six hits, three blocks and two assists in 24:19 while teaming with Keith Yandle. Staal got the bulk of the minutes logging 25:42 including 19:45 at even strength with partner Kevin Klein to blanket the Flyers’ top line of Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Most importantly, they won the game. After matching crosscheck minors to Mats Zuccarello and Chris Vandevelde, they got the game’s first goal during a well executed four-on-four. Taking a great outlet from Yandle, Derick Brassard skated around the Flyers’ net and beat Steve Mason with a wrap around. Initially, it looked like Viktor Stalberg put it in. But the puck was already across the line giving Brassard his 19th to more cheers at 5:08. Girardi started it with a defensive play.
Given chances on the power play, the Rangers didn’t take advantage. The bigger part of the second half of the first was a huge penalty kill of a high-sticking double minor wrongly assessed to Zuccarello during a TV timeout. Dominic Moore was the guilty party. But refs Kelly Sutherland and Dave Jackson erred putting the wrong player in the penalty box. That actually benefited the Rangers, who still had a valuable penalty killer in Moore, who also takes defensive draws. Zuccarello doesn’t kill penalties.
Even though they were pinned in for a good chunk, the Rangers bent but didn’t break. A key part of the Flyers’ top ranked power play was missing for the first half. Prized rookie Shayne Gostisbehere couldn’t start the man-advantage due to a cut that needed repairing from Moore’s errant high-stick. His top heavy shot has been doing damage. When he returned for the second half, the Flyers’ power play was more dangerous forcing Henrik Lundqvist into some tough saves.
Lundqvist’s game has been stellar lately. Locked in from the beginning, he was seeing the puck extremely well. If not for a Flyers’ 6-on-4 power play goal from Brayden Schenn with 9.5 seconds left from Voracek and Gostisbehere, who increased his rookie record point streak for a defenseman to 12 straight- Lundqvist pitches his second straight shutout. Considering the work he did in last Monday’s 2-1 win over the Devils which was ruined by a Travis Zajac shorthanded goal with 2:17 left, the King could easily have three straight shutouts.
”What matters to me is that we win games,” a poignant Lundqvist stated. ”We were being aggressive and played a strong game.”
Following such a heavy pace to the first that included the fisticuffs, the second was much more quiet. Almost too much so. Even though they got the first three shots, the Rangers gave up more puck possession to the Flyers. But for all their strong forecheck, they were only able to muster six shots that reached Lundqvist. Each one he stopped easily. Even with his team in penalty kill trouble, Henrik was focused. After killing off a bench minor, they were hemmed in their zone by a relentless Flyers’ forecheck. Girardi must’ve been out for almost two minutes. Eventually, it led to McIlrath taking a Flyer down.
Even with the Flyers having the puck inside the Ranger zone for a long time with tired penalty killers, they couldn’t beat Lundqvist. Many attempts went wide or over the net. In the stat of the night, the Flyers were the gang that couldn’t shoot straight missing 28 shots. The grittier Blueshirts blocked another 20. Even though they out-attempted the Rangers 70-51, it felt like they would never score.
It was still a one-goal game when Derek Stepan hit a milestone. Ineffective on the top unit with bad turnovers on the left point, Stepan was the recipient of a remarkable no-look pass from wizard Mats Zuccarello for his 100th career NHL goal. Girardi made a good keep pushing the puck down to Zuccarello, who turned and fed Stepan for his 11th which gave the Rangers some breathing room with 9:26 left in the third.
A Chris Kreider rush led to Radko Gudas taking him down from the side. While some fans clamored for a penalty shot, it wasn’t. The right call was made. This time, the Rangers power play performed a miracle of sorts scoring for a second consecutive game. It only took a cool dozen seconds. Off a Brassard faceoff win, the amazing Zuccarello continued his wizardry with a great pass to an open Stepan for his 12th.
”We worked hard tonight,” said Stepan after scoring his third in the last two games. ”We just have to continue to work at that.”
There wasn’t anything to dislike. It was a total team effort. When Pierre-Edouard Bellemare crashed into Lundqvist following a slight Oscar Lindberg shove leading to a goaltender interference, Klein came to his goalie’s aid roughing up Bellemare for matching minors. It was exactly the response you wanted. Sure. A Glass slash led to Schenn breaking the shutout following a remarkable stop by a leaping Lundqvist. That didn’t matter. It was just bookkeeping.
The Rangers showed up ready and played that way. This was a very positive result for a team that just might be hitting its stride at the right time. Since McDonagh went down, they’re now 3-0-1. Really 4-0-1 if you consider the captain was knocked out in the first of the 3-2 comeback win in Philly thanks to Yandle.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Dylan McIlrath, Rangers (stood up for captain and did it proudly)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (21 saves-2 GA in last 3 games)
1st Star-Derek Stepan, Rangers (2 goals-11, 12-team high 6 SOG, 11-9 FO, +1 in 26 shifts-19:14)