There are times when you appreciate what you're part of. Tonight was one of those special cases. With it all on the line, the Rangers held off the Flyers 4-3 in a thrilling hockey game that had a little bit of everything before an absolute mad house at Madison Square Garden. Needing a win in their final regular season home game to keep their season alive, the guys in red, white and blue went the extra mile to give the ramped up Garden Faithful a good sendoff. Whether or not it's the final game of a wild season remains to be seen.
That story won't unfold until Sunday's rematch at Philly with the playoffs up for grabs. For now, both old Patrick rivals are tied with 86 points, trailing the Bruins and Canadiens by a point. In order for the Rangers to make it a fifth consecutive Spring, they'll need to win in overtime or by shootout. They cannot under any circumstances finish tied with Montreal due to the all important wins tiebreaker. They also can't finish tied with the Flyers and must prevail Sunday if it comes down to extras. The Flyers own the No.1 tiebreak with 40 victories. Two better than the Rangers and three more than Boston who plays twice this weekend starting today against Carolina. There is one scenario where if the B's dropped the final two in regulation and both the Blueshirts and Flyers guaranteed themselves a point, that would knockout Boston. Even the Habs would be safe if they don't earn a point in their season finale versus Toronto tonight. Highly unlikely. By the time the two archrivals take the Wachovia ice, they'll know the Bruins' result with them finishing at Washington on NBC.
Most importantly, the Rangers are still alive with another do-or-die game on the horizon. If they can duplicate Friday's result, they're in. Of course, many of us would prefer it not to be so nerve wracking. Haha. In terms of what we got, this was an edge of your seat thriller that perked the interest from start to finish while also playing with our hearts. Both teams gave you scintillating hockey that had ferocious intensity. It may as well have been the playoffs. Regardless of who you cheer for, the players on both sides left it all out there. It was played at a great pace. Perfect considering all the energy at the place. It's nights like this that show how True Blue we really are. Kudos to everyone, especially those in our section 411 who made it one of the most fun atmospheres ever.
It sure didn't come easy for the home club. Not after a bad start in which a rare Marc Staal miscue led to Flyer captain Mike Richards tallying the game's first goal 40 seconds in. His pass hit a skate and went right to Richards, who broke in and fired high stickside past Henrik Lundqvist. Before we could even get settled, they were behind. It got worse when on the ensuing faceoff at center ice, Daniel Carcillo suckered Aaron Voros into a high-sticking minor. The refs didn't help warning both and then it looked like Carcillo pulled Voros' stick into him. What a douche. Right away, they had to kill a penalty down one. Only a couple of timely stops from Lundqvist and a solid PK kept the deficit at one.
Gaining momentum from the big kill, the Rangers started to get shots through on a shaky Brian Boucher. However, they couldn't beat him until Carcillo took an undisciplined double minor for hi-sticking. It didn't click right away with ex-Ranger Blair Betts and Ian Lapierre doing some solid work. Eventually, the Rangers got set up. Before the game, as I walked up, I overheard a couple of fans taking players to score. I instantly chose Chris Drury because when the chips are down, he usually comes through. Sure enough, off a nifty Erik Christensen backdoor pass, the Ranger captain responded to Richards' tally by finishing off his 14th firing the crowd back up. The one time they gave away something which in this case were t-shirts, we waved them like towels. Dan Girardi, who made a nice keep at the blueline, added a secondary helper.
During a stretch which has seen them go 7-1-1 just to reach tomorrow, much criticized coach John Tortorella put together a solid fourth line of Jody Shelley, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Prust. The sudden radical change for a coach who's never been known for rolling four lines has paid huge dividends. Without the gritty trio, there would be no reason to play Game 82. For whatever reason, they have been the most cohesive, bringing a popular crash bang style that this team lacked for quite some time. Prust has delivered plenty and Anisimov has been outstanding. Then there's Shelley who we bagged on not too long ago because he hardly was any different from Donald Brashear. However, now that he's got a defined role, the enforcer has demonstrated that he can contribute. Fitting that he'd put the Rangers ahead with his first goal as a Ranger. Anisimov won a draw and Prust stepped in and pushed the puck to Shelley in front, who beat Boucher delighting the crowd.
Just like that, two goals in less than three minutes had us up. They searched for more but credit Boucher with holding his team in. In a period the Rangers outshot the Flyers 12-4, he made 10 saves. The sense between the end of the first and beginning of the second was that our guys let up. Part of it was due to Philadelphia, who finally mounted an attack after going over 17 minutes without a shot following Richards' goal. You could sense they were coming on. That continued much of the second, forcing Lundqvist to make a few tough stops. The Flyers were gaining our zone too easy but got sidetracked thanks to a super play by Marian Gaborik. Taking a Christensen pass at the Flyer blueline, the Great Gabby wheeled around Matt Carle and then slipped a perfect backhand feed from a tough angle to an uncovered Brandon Dubinsky, who buried his career high 20th top shelf. Chris Pronger was caught napping. It wasn't a good night for the All-Star defenseman.
"It was a playoff game, plain and simple...we believe in each other right now...full of confidence," a pleased Dubinsky said after his big goal.
Up 3-1 with MSG going bonkers, the Rangers couldn't maintain it. As we said, it was a better period from Peter Laviolette's club. They were hungrier to the puck and finally got just results. Just 78 seconds after Dubinsky scored, Simon Gagne found a wide open Daniel Briere across for an easy one-timer upstairs that Lundqvist never had a chance on. Moments earlier, a big Staal hit on Carcillo got our guys scrambled. With Shelley and another player in the area, they never recovered, allowing Briere to cut it to 3-2.
Steven McDonald Extra Effort two-time winner Ryan Callahan tried to come back minutes later but his pass for Vinny Prospal down low got intercepted, leading to Richards' second. The turnover at the blueline caught our D flat footed. Taking a Pronger pass, Richards broke in from the left speeding in for a breakaway. With Rozsival giving chase, his backhand from in tight went off Lundqvist and caromed off Rozy's skate for the tying goal at 14:41. It was hard to even tell how it went in. Richards' persistence paid off, turning it into a brand new game. One that had a few in our section concerned. Nobody wanted to see that team end the season in our building. That also goes for tomorrow but it will be in enemy territory.
With it starting to look grim, especially with Philly continuing to come on, Gaborik made a game changing play that proved the difference. Following a timely Lundqvist kickout of a Flyer shot, the puck wound up in the neutral zone with Pronger sitting on it. Right in front of the Ranger bench, he fumbled it and Gaborik pounced. Backing up a retreating Carle, the dangerous Slovak wristed one from a tough angle that went off the Flyer D's stick past a stunned Boucher gloveside. The unassisted tally was Gaborik's team best 42nd sending everyone minus a few scattered Flyer jerseys into a frenzy. It was a magnificent play by a super skilled star who's lived up to Year One of his big contract. No.42 matched a career high established with the Wild in '07-08. With a goal and helper, Gaborik's already put up a career best 86 points (42-44-86). That he's done it in 75 games in an Olympic Year which he played banged up in as well as afterwards speaks to this man's character. I always thought he was soft due to the injuries but that perception was dead wrong. Gabby's tougher than we ever gave credit for. Hopefully, he's got one or two more goals left.
"They were unbelievable, a real playoff atmosphere...they lifted us," expressed Gaborik of the Garden.
"That's why he's paid the big bucks! He's such a clutch player for us, our go-to guy, and proved it again," Girardi beamed.Leading by a goal after 40 minutes, I told Dad and a few others it was time for Lundqvist to shut the door proclaiming, 'No more goals.' For once at least, it was nice to be proven right. Even if there were an awful lot of close calls during a rambunctious third that had plenty of fire.
Refs Dan O'Rourke and Paul Devorski did a good job allowing the teams to decide it. With the exception of a couple of faceoffs I felt should've been outside our zone, they didn't miss much. Up till that point, only two penalties were called. One for each side. But sometimes, the Flyers are their own worst enemy. They take an awful lot of bad penalties such as Scott Hartnell's silly crosscheck which handed us a second straight power play. After failing to convert on Braydon Coburn's hook, the Blueshirts couldn't cash in with the Flyer PK getting it done. However, a wild sequence after it expired almost led to Shelley's second of the game. Badly misplaying a puck, Boucher nearly put it into his own net. Then, with him dead to rights, Shelley had an open net but at the last split second, Boucher made an unbelievable sliding stick save to rob Jody, drawing murmurs.
Before you could catch your breath, an even more startling event occurred. Following a Hartnell hit on Anisimov, a fired up Girardi lost it, throwing the gloves down and pounding the rugged Flyer with rights into submission to a thunderous ovation. This had to be extra sweet for a guy who got killed after not standing up for Gaborik while Carcillo humiliated the team in a disturbing 1/21 loss. It was great to see and showed just how unified this team is now.
Of course, it wouldn't be the Rangers without a few frantic shifts late. With Voros in the sin bin for interference, Lundqvist saved his best work when it counted, making a couple of sprawling saves in traffic. Jeff Carter, who returned also had a near miss that had us fearing the worst. With Boucher on the bench the final minute, the Flyers swarmed but couldn't beat Henrik, who turned aside all 10 third period shots en route to his 35th win.
“I’m just glad we gave ourselves another day,” a prideful Drury stated. “We wanted another chance and we battled pretty hard the last couple of weeks to get to Game 82.”
“Two weeks ago, three weeks ago, I think everybody didn’t believe in us,” Gaborik added while noting, “but here we are with one game left. Our destiny is in our own hands.”
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Mike Richards, Phi (2 goals-30th, 31st, 4 SOG, 4 hits, takeaway, blocked shot, 8-5 draws in 22:54)
2nd Star-Dan Girardi, NYR (assist, fight, hit, 3 blocked shots in 21:36)
1st Star-Marian Gaborik, NYR (GW-career tying 42nd, assist, SOG, three hits, 2 blocked shots, +1 in 21:13)
Notes: Since being challenged by Tortorella, Christensen has delivered four points (2-2-4) in both wins. The waiver wire pickup is 8-18-26 plus-14 in 48 games with the Rangers. ... Shelley, Prust and Anisimov each recorded a point, making it 16 total points since they became a line eight games ago. ... In his first game back from a broken left foot after missing the previous eight, Carter finished with three shots in 16:16. ... After delivering a big hit to Pronger in the second, Callahan reinjured his left knee and didn't return. He was seen in a brace and will be examined by a doctor later today. ... Boucher made 21 saves suffering the loss. Lundqvist finished with 24 saves. He's allowed 17 goals over the past nine for a 2.00 GAA.
Games To Follow On Saturday
Carolina at Boston 1 ET
Toronto at Montreal 7 ET