|Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, shown here keeping an eye on the puck with Paul Mara, made 33 saves on Saturday.
|Renney Discusses Game vs. Flyers ||WMP |
|Cullen on the Rangers' 6-4 Win ||WMP |
|Jagr on Holding Off a Comeback Attempt ||WMP |
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Even if Saturday night's win 6-4 win over the Flyers at the Wachovia Center hadn't done so much to bolster the Rangers' playoff positioning, it would have been a landmark victory on many remarkable levels.
For starters, the Blueshirts achieved something they had never before managed in their history – a four-game regular-season sweep of Philadelphia on the road. Eight previous Rangers teams had played four games in Philadelphia in the course of a season, but none had managed to achieve what the 2006-07 Rangers pulled off on Saturday night.
In addition to the unprecedented four-game sweep of a longtime divisional rival, there were many superlatives on Saturday night.
With their 10th victory in the month of March, the 2006-07 Blueshirts became the first Rangers team to win 10 times in the final full calendar month before the start of the playoffs. They also came up just one win short of the team record for victories in any calendar month, and by claiming their 40th victory of 2006-07, the Rangers managed back-to-back 40-win seasons for the first time since 1974.
The Rangers also picked up their 11th victory since the Feb. 27 NHL trade deadline, a remarkable 16-game run that has seen the team go 11-2-3 and collect 25 of a possible 32 points.
On an individual level, there was one particularly noteworthy achievement. Petr Prucha notched his 20th goal of the season during the second period. That made him the first Rangers draft pick since Alexei Kovalev to scored 20 goals in each of his first two NHL seasons with the team.
There was certainly no shortage of accolades, but the player who made it all happen on Saturday night was captain Jaromir Jagr, who scored two goals and assisted on another, setting the tone for a convincing Rangers win.
Jagr had a goal in each of his team's three-goal first and second periods. He had an opportunity for a hat trick late in the game after Philadelphia pulled its goaltender for an extra attacker, but the Flyers managed to keep him far enough away from the net to deny him the third goal.
Despite their offensive production in the first 40 minutes, the Rangers found themselves fighting to nail down their victory for much of the third period. Leading 6-3 after two periods, the Blueshirts saw the lead cut back to two goals when Philadelphia's Grant Potulny scored at 1:59 of the final period. The Flyers could get no closer, as the Rangers clamped down defensively for two points that enabled them to keep pace with the sixth-place Tampa Bay Lightning, who beat Washington at home and still lead the Blueshirts by a point.
In other games on Saturday, the seventh-place Rangers' run toward the playoffs got additional help when the Islanders fell to Ottawa. The Rangers will face Toronto on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. The Leafs are now two points behind the Blueshirts and are sure to put up a tough fight when they come into MSG for what might be their most important game of the season.
With four games remaining, the Rangers can clinch a playoff spot with two wins and can potentially clinch sixth place with three. Two wins would give the Rangers 93 points on the season, which is even more than was needed to qualify for last year's playoffs.
When the playoffs do come around, the Rangers will look back to moments like Saturday, when their captain led them to the kind of win that might have eluded them earlier this season. The Rangers never trailed in the game and managed to protect their multi-goal leads, even when the Flyers began to threaten.
Jagr was the key ingredient on Saturday. He scored a highlight-reel goal in the first period, added another in the second and also assisted on the first goal of the game. The other key was goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 33 shots on a night when his own teammates were outshot by a 37-34 margin.
Thomas Pock and Ryan Callahan had the other first-period tallies for the Rangers, and Martin Straka and Prucha scored the other goals in the second period. Early on, after Philadelphia had tied the game at 1-1, the pace started to resemble a track meet during a wild 2:20 stretch of the opening period that featured three total goals. The Flyers would later cut the lead to one goal in the second period, and once again, the Rangers broke away.
Jagr helped the Rangers brush off that early second-period challenge when he netted second goal of the night in style, scoring on a semi-breakaway into the Philadelphia zone. Center Michael Nylander had sprung Jagr over the Flyers' blue line with a perfect pass from the neutral zone, and Jagr cruised in to the right of starting goaltender Martin Biron before placing a wrist shot into the upper left corner to restore a two-goal lead at 6:15.
It took only one minute for Jagr's goal to signal a rout, as Straka followed with another tally at 7:15 to make it 5-2. Straka took a cross-ice pass from defenseman Marek Malik in the left faceoff circle and calmly shot the puck past an out-of-position Biron into a nearly-unguarded net.
The goal was Straka's first since a Feb. 18 victory over Chicago at Madison Square Garden and pulled him into a three-way tie for the Rangers' lead at 28 goals. Last season, Jagr was the only player on the Rangers roster to score more than 25 goals – a good sign heading toward the playoffs, when offensive depth is often the key to success.
Following Straka's goal, the Flyers removed Biron from the net and replaced him with Antero Niitymaki, the starter in five of this season's previous seven Rangers-Flyers meetings.
Just over two minutes before Jagr scored, Philadelphia had made it a one-goal game when a harmless shot by Ben Eager from along the left boards caught Ryan Hollweg's stick blade and deflected past Lundqvist into the left side of the net.
Even after Jagr and Straka's two goals in 60 seconds, Philadelphia would later cut the second-period lead to 5-3 on a power-play goal that followed back-to-back calls against the Rangers' Matt Cullen and Malik. Cullen had gone off for high-sticking at 10:51, and Malik had followed with a hooking penalty at 12:19.
The Blueshirts managed to kill off the brief 5-on-3 Flyers power play but were finally beaten on the 5-on-4 when Braydon Coburn blasted in a shot from the left point that beat Lundqvist high to the stick side with 1:01 left in Malik's penalty.
Prucha took the lead back to 6-3 with only 50 seconds remaining in the middle period, as he made Philadelphia pay for a Dmitry Afanasenkov's tripping penalty in the offensive zone.
Prucha's goal came off a pretty passing play, started by defenseman Michal Rozsival, who sent Nylander into the Flyers zone with Prucha and Straka. Nylander fed Straka in the slot, and Straka sent it to his left to Prucha who fired in his historic 20th goal of the season over Niittymaki's stick at 19:10.
In the first period, the Rangers bounced back from the early tying goal that followed Pock's opener by only 24 seconds. By the end of the first 20 minutes, the Blueshirts had the majority of the puck possession, particularly during a late stretch when they controlled play in Philadelphia's zone for nearly two full minutes.
Pock gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 3:32 of the opening period, converting a slick pass from Jagr, who came out of the right corner and fed Pock at the top of the left faceoff circle. Quickly gathering in the pass, Pock unleashed a wrist shot through traffic, past Biron and into the right side of the net for a 1-0 lead.
That goal completed a season-long trend between the Rangers and Flyers, because the team scoring first won all eight meetings between these two teams in 2006-07.
Only 24 seconds after the Pock goal, however, Philadelphia came back with a goal from an unlikely source, tough guy Eager, who picked up a puck along the end boards and came out from behind the net to Lundqvist's left. Missing on his first wraparound effort, Eager stuffed the puck through Lundqvist's pads to make it 1-1.
The Rangers just under two more minutes to regain their lead, as it was Callahan capping off heady plays by both Sean Avery and Cullen. Avery, along the left boards, had fired a shot that rebounded off Biron and came out to Cullen directly in front of the net. As he was being taken down, Cullen dished the puck off to Avery, just to his right, and the rookie sent it into an unguarded net for a 2-1 lead at 5:52.
Jagr's goal added the exclamation point to the first period, coming at the 11:59 mark. The play featured the sort the overpowering move Rangers captain is famous for. He picked up a drop pass from Nylander just above the left circle, cut across the edge of the circle into the slot and drove headlong at Biron before beating the Flyers netminder with a brilliant deke move.
With Jed Ortmeyer out with to a minor knee injury, Rangers head coach Tom Renney shuffled three of his four lines for Saturday's game. Brad Isbister rejoined the lineup and was inserted back on the top line with Jagr and Nylander. Straka was moved to center between Brendan Shanahan and Prucha, and Cullen was centering the a new-look third line with Avery on his left and rookie Callahan on his right.