By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
The Rangers exploded for four goals in the first period en-route to a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, clinching their first Eastern Conference regular season title since 1993-94 in the process. The Rangers are thus guaranteed home-ice advantage for the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs which begin next week.
The win also gave the Rangers a six-game season series sweep over their bitter rivals, the Flyers. The Blueshirts outscored Philly 24-11 over the six-game sweep. The victory also clinched the Rangers fourth division title since the 1967 expansion from the Original Six.
Ryan McDonagh, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Callahan all scored in the first period as the Rangers raced out to a 4-0 lead against beleagured Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who was playing for the first time in four games after suffering a chipped bone in his foot. The Blueshirts scored two goals on their first six shots, three on their first nine, and four on their first eleven shots against Bryzgalov.
Meanwhile Henrik Lundqvist was phenomenal between the pipes for the Rangers, especially in the early going when Philly controlled the territorial advantage. Lundqvist's diving glove save to rob Wayne Simmonds on a point-blank power-play rebound kept the game scoreless and helped set the stage for the visitors' scoring binge shortly thereafter.
McDonagh raced into the slot to convert a pretty Marian Gaborik feed at 6:25 to provide the Rangers an important early lead on the road. The Rangers are now an amazing 35-5-3 when scoring first this season.
Boyle potted a rebound of McDonagh's shot at 11:30 for his 10th goal of the season---and fourth in the past seven games---to make it 2-0 New York. Anisimov then scored off a magnificent rush and finish on the power play with 1:58 to play in the opening period. While scoring his 15th goal Anisimov drew three penalties against the Flyers---a double minor for high sticking on Pavel Kubina and a hooking minor on Marc-Andre Bourdon.
Callahan quickly scored on a rebound during the 5-on-3 power play for the Rangers' fourth goal of the opening period. The goal was Callahan's career-high 29th of the season, and came 36 seconds after Anisimov had scored against the reeling Flyers, who were booed off the ice, despite outshooting New York 13-11 in the first period.
Philly scored twice in the second period---both times after Lundqvist had originally made outstanding saves, only to be beaten on rebounds by Jakub Voarcek and Simmonds. Those goals sandwiched Gaborik's 41st of the season---one shy of his single-season career-high---at 19:09 of the second.
Gaborik and McDonagh each had a goal and an assist Tuesday, while Brad Richards had two assists. Twelve different Rangers recorded at least one point, while Lundqvist---making his tenth consecutive start in goal---finished with 37 saves.
The Rangers also killed off seven of the Flyers eight power plays in the game, including three straight in the thrid period, while going 3-for-6 on their own power play.