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Back in lineup, Avery stars for Rangers

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- One game after he was a healthy scratch, Sean Avery delivered a performance that should ensure his place in the New York Rangers lineup for the rest of the season.

Avery scored a pair of goals and drew two penalties as the Rangers emerged with a 3-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon. The win was the Rangers' second straight and moved them within one point of the Boston Bruins for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

And Avery was the difference.

"I think you knew that once we saw Aves' number up on the board … I said to myself, 'I bet we're going to see something pretty good,'" said Rangers center Erik Christensen, who had two assists in the victory. "Obviously two goals is a pretty big game, but I knew you'd notice him in some way (today), and obviously he sure was noticeable."

And not just on the scoresheet. Avery had an inspired game after he was a healthy scratch against the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday. Besides the goal, he drew a roughing penalty on the Flyers' Scott Hartnell during the second period and an interference call on Braydon Coburn in the third.

Hartnell looked like he was ready to beat Avery senseless, but the Rangers' pest refused to drop his gloves. He instead opted to let Hartnell skate to the penalty box to give the Rangers a two-minute power play.

"That's his game," said Hartnell. "You gotta expect that every once in a while from him, to suck a guy into a penalty. But I punched him pretty good, right in the jaw, and we killed off the penalty. You just have to be careful with him. We have to do a better job keeping our cool and beat them on the scoreboard."

The loss for the Flyers comes a little more than 24 hours after a come-from-behind victory against the Chicago Blackhawks in which the Flyers scored twice in the final few minutes on home ice for a 3-2 victory. Facing a similar deficit Sunday against the Rangers, the Flyers were unable to find that magic again.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said his team didn't show the required energy for the intense, physical game that the Rangers were clearly ready to play.

"Their whole team out-hit us. They played harder than us," said Flyers captain Mike Richards, who echoed the sentiment of his coach. "They finished their checks. We kind of swung by some, finished some. We were very selective in our physical play. They weren't. They finished their checks whenever they had the opportunity to."

The Flyers are tied with the Montreal Canadiens with 76 points, good for sixth place in the East. But Sunday's regulation loss trimmed their cushion on the ninth-place Rangers to just five points.

The Rangers have surged back into the playoff picture after a three-game losing streak left them looking like they were on life support. It doesn't get any easier with the Canadiens coming to MSG on Tuesday in another game that should have a playoff-like atmosphere.

"Definitely, we have been smelling it for a while," said Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival, whose third goal of the season proved to be the game-winner Sunday. "(The Canadiens) are a team we are kind of chasing to get into the playoffs so we have to get ready for Montreal."

The Flyers scored on their first shot of the game. With Olli Jokinen in the penalty box for slashing, Danny Briere skated off the half-wall and wristed a shot through heavy traffic that found its way past Lundqvist just 4:13 into the game to make it 1-0.

But it was all downhill from there for Philadelphia.

The Rangers got things even just 1:53 into the second period off a faceoff win by Christensen, who pulled the puck back to Wade Redden. He ripped a shot that was stopped by Leighton, but Avery beat Flyers defenseman Matt Carle to the front of the net and backhanded the rebound home just 1:53 into the second period.

Rozsival put the Rangers up 2-1 with a power-play goal just 3:01 later. His blast from the point deflected off the post and past Leighton, who was helpless against a gorgeous screen directly in front by Chris Drury.

While the Rangers rose to the challenge, the Flyers, perhaps possessing tired legs after inclement weather severely delayed their trip to New York, didn't have enough in the tank.

"We had very little urgency," said a clearly perturbed Laviolette. "We had very little game. I thought the Rangers came out a little bit slow in the first period, and they picked it up in the second and third. Our game didn't vary too much in all three periods."

Avery salted the game away with 5:55 left in the third period with his second of the game, a seemingly harmless wrist shot from the left-wing wall that went over the catching glove of Leighton.

Not bad for a guy who couldn't crack the lineup Friday.

"I think that is the way you answer," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 17 saves on what must've felt like a day off for him. "Great answer coming back from the scratch and he played really well. A lot of energy, speed, shooting the puck well. I am happy for him and it was great for the team to have him back there."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter at: @DLozoNHL

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