It seemed like “deja vu all over again” for the Rangers who seem to get behind in every game lately.
“For a couple of seconds you feel really sorry for yourself, you understand it’s 58 minutes to go and you dig deep,” said Henrik Lundqvist after the Rangers got behind 1-0 just 2:06 into the game. “That’s what we did, didn’t panic. Tied the game pretty fast and it was a big thing to give us confidence. From there we just took off.”
The Rangers hammered the Flyers 5-1 with a performance that was sorely needed. Rick Nash broke a 12 game drought without a goal as he scored twice while the Rangers tightened up defensively after an early lapse that led to the first goal of the game. “My game’s been good, just haven’t been able to put the puck in the net,” said Nash, “tonight, two go in.”
An early goal on a deflection by the Flyers’ Jordan Weal would be the only puck that would get by Lunqvist who stopped 25 of 26 shots and won his 20th game of the season to become the first goaltender in NHL history to have 20 wins in each of his first 13 seasons.
The Rangers cannot afford any lengthy losing streaks and they had already dropped three in a row coming into this crucial game against Philadelphia. As usual, Lundqvist carried the Rangers against an opponent that he absolutely owns. With this win, Lundqvist improved to 21-4-1 against the Flyers in his last 30 games, including a 12-1 mark at the Garden.
After Nash’s first goal on a breakaway tied the game 1-1, the Rangers were on a power play when “The King” made, arguably, the save of the game. The Flyers came into the Ranger zone with a 2-on-1, shorthanded, odd man rush when Lundqvist made a terrific pad save to stone Flyers Captain Claude Giroux. “When you start, first shot in the net like that it’s a little hill to climb,” Lundqvist said. “You need to feel good, you need to make a couple of good saves. I got an opportunity to make a few and obviously, it felt really good when we scored right after.”
The go ahead goal came 25 seconds after that huge save as J.T. Miller deflected Ryan McDonagh’s shot past Flyers’ goaltender Brian Elliott (who was brutal in the Philly net) for a 2-1 lead and the Rangers never looked back. With less than ten seconds left in the first period, Paul Carey took a beautiful feed from Peter Holland (who was making his Ranger debut) and beat Elliott for the Rangers’ first shorthanded goal of the season. The Rangers had been the only team in the NHL without a shorthanded goal.
The five goal outburst was a welcome sight for a team that had trouble scoring lately (two or fewer goals in eight of their last ten games) but it was the defense that led the way. “We forechecked with five guys, we set up our neutral zone trap with five guys and we defended with five guys,” said Nash who has been playing a strong defensive game. “Makes such a big difference when you’re all on the same page and I thought we were tonight,” he said.
For the first time in 15 games, the Rangers allowed less than 30 shots. “A lot of times you can get real good offense when you’re playing defense,” said Coach Alain Vigneault. “You look at our fourth and fifth goal, quick counter plays where we scored on the rush because we caught those guys a little bit deep.” Michael Grabner’s 20th goal and Nash’s second of the game in the second period put the game away.
The Rangers have been maddeningly inconsistent but they’ve managed to keep themselves firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt. They’ve shown that when they play their game, they can compete with any team in the league but then there are games like the “no-shows” against the Islanders and Penguins this past weekend that makes you scratch your head. Up next, a home game Thursday night vs. Buffalo and then off on a pivotal four game Western swing that will take the Rangers to Colorado, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose. “You gotta play a full 200 foot game,” Vigneault said. “We talk about it, tonight we executed and hopefully we’ll do the same thing against Buffalo on Thursday.”