NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Second Round with a 2-1 win in Game 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday. The Metropolitan Division rivals were evenly matched in their first-round series, evidenced by the fact that neither team was able to win consecutive games.
The Rangers won the odd-numbered games; the Flyers took the even-numbered ones. Momentum was never a factor from game to game: The Rangers' series-clinching win came 24 hours after a 5-2 loss in Philadelphia. But in the rematch at Madison Square Garden, they scored twice during a dominant second period and tightened up defensively in the third to win their fourth consecutive Game 7.
Here are five reasons why New York advanced:
1. Scoring depth
Rick Nash led the Rangers during the regular season with 26 goals, so the fact that he went without one in the seven-game series does stick out. But Nash had four assists, contributed in a number of other ways, and his teammates compensated for his lack of goal scoring.
Eight different Rangers scored two goals in the series, and a different skater accounted for each of the four game-winning goals. Coach Alain Vigneault rolled four lines for much of the season and has made no secret about his reliance on depth, so he has to be pleased by the variety of players who found a way to contribute offensively.
The list of players with multiple goals against Philadelphia ranged from the obvious (Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards) to the unexpected (Daniel Carcillo, Dominic Moore). The fact that 12 players contributed at least two assists in the series is further testament to the depth of this team. That group includes J.T. Miller, who played in two games.
2. Fourth line
Every forward line was given the opportunity to make plays by Vigneault, but perhaps no group exemplified the Rangers' balanced style quite like the checking line of Moore, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett. The trio wasn't relied on for much offense, although Moore had his moments and scored the game-winner in Game 5. But when it came to matching the Flyers' grit and toughness, no line did it as consistently and convincingly as this group.
The Rangers' fourth line provided the occasional goal and could provide an aggressive shift in which they pinned the Flyers in their own end, but their greatest contribution may have been defensively. They spent much of the series matched against Philadelphia's top line of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell and shut down the Flyers' top offensive option. Giroux finished third in NHL scoring during the regular season with 86 points but didn't enjoy much success against the Moore-Boyle-Dorsett unit. Giroux had three points in Game 6, none of which came against the Moore line, but had three points and 13 shots in the other six games.
For parts of Game 7, Moore and Co. were assigned to the rebuilt line of Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Hartnell. After leading the Flyers with 29 regular-season goals and contributing a hat trick in Game 6, Simmonds was held to one shot and no points in the deciding game.
3. 5-on-5 play
The Rangers won the series despite a power play that went without a goal on its final 21 attempts and a penalty kill that allowed six goal on 21 opportunities. They made up for their special-teams problems with a superb effort when playing 5-on-5.
The Rangers' 1.86 goal differential playing at even strength is the best mark in the playoffs, edging the Montreal Canadiens, who played three fewer games. New York outshot Philadelphia 181-150 while playing 5-on-5, and Vigneault did not hide the fact that he preferred to have the teams playing at full and equal strength.
"I think we'd like to play any team 5-on-5," he said after Game 7. "We feel really good about the way we play in our game."
4. The new guy
Forward Martin St. Louis experienced a difficult transition with the Rangers, putting up four points in his first 17 games after being traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 5. But he found his stride playing on a line with Nash and Derek Stepan, collecting four points in his final two games of the regular season, and in the playoffs he's arguably been New York's most dangerous player.
St. Louis tied for the team lead in the first round with six points; five came in the first three games of the series, including the game-winner in Game 3. He may have been held without a point in three of the Rangers' past four games, but that doesn't mean the two-time Art Ross Trophy winner suddenly stopped contributing.
St. Louis logged more minutes than any other Rangers forward, got plenty of strong looks and did an excellent job facilitating for his linemates. He was especially proficient in directing the Rangers' transition game, either leading the rush or making a subtle play along the boards to find a linemate skating in stride. This didn't necessarily translate into goals later in the first round, but that can be attributed at least partly to the strong goaltending of Steve Mason.
5. Big-game experience
The Rangers could make it easier on themselves if they found a way to finish off their opponent in fewer than seven games, but their ability to win the big one is undeniable. By beating Philadelphia, New York became the first team in NHL history to win a Game 7 in the first round in three consecutive postseasons. They have won four consecutive Game 7s dating back to 2012.
A major part of that success in winner-take-all games is the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. In those four Game 7 wins, Lundqvist boasts an 0.75 goals-against average and a .973 save percentage. Throw in the big-game experience of Richards and St. Louis, who as members of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 won consecutive Game 7s in the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final, and you have a battle-tested group that knows how to win on the game's biggest stage.
Of course, there won't be too many complaints around the Garden if the Rangers could win a series in fewer than seven games; it's something they haven't done since 2008.
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