|Henrik Lundqvist had no trouble showing Philadelphia why he has been the NHL's top goalie since mid-January. Lundqvist earned his fifth shutout of the season with 17 saves.
|Renney on the Big Win Over the Flyers ||WMP |
|Shanahan Discusses Return from Injury ||WMP |
|Analysis From Former Ranger Dave Maloney ||WMP |
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Brendan Shanahan's return to the lineup provided the Rangers with an obvious boost on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, but the outstanding defensive play that has turned March into a magical month for the Blueshirts was the biggest difference in a crushing 5-0 shutout of the Philadelphia Flyers.
A big, two-goal second period wasn't quite as stunning as the six-goal performance in Saturday's win over Boston, but it had much the same feel and put the game out of reach for Philadelphia. Then, just for good measure, the Rangers added another two goals in the third period en route to their second shutout victory in a three-game home winning streak that has seen them outscore opponents by a whopping 14-1 margin.
Petr Prucha scored in the first period, captain Jaromir Jagr and Sean Avery found the net on power plays in the second, and Jed Ortmeyer and Avery did the damage in the third. Meanwhile, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 17 saves for his fifth shutout of the season and the seventh of his career. It was also the Blueshirts' first shutout of Philadelphia at MSG since a 0-0 tie 26 years ago on March 30, 1981.
The Rangers dominated play from start to finish on Wednesday, cashing in on two power-play opportunities in the second period and then riding Lundqvist's remarkable goaltending to a flawless win over a struggling but spirited Flyers team that was long ago eliminated from the playoff race.
With their victory, the Blueshirts moved to within one point of Tampa Bay for sixth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference. They also increased their cushion over three teams outside the playoff picture to three points with eight games remaining in the the regular season.
The Rangers, 8-1-3 since the Feb. 27 NHL trade deadline, will likely need to win five of their remaining games to guarantee a playoff berth. A .500 record might also be enough, should the last four victories emerge from upcoming games against the Islanders, Toronto and Montreal.
Asked what had driven the Rangers to such heights over the past few weeks, Jagr said the playoff push had given the team a tremendous focus..
"(It was) probably the fear that we are not going to make the playoffs," said Jagr of what has motivated the Rangers. "We thought it was going to be easy to make the playoffs this year and then all of a sudden we looked at the standings we were in the 12th or 11th place and that was a wake-up call for us. When the coaches told us that in the last 35 games we had to win 24, winning 60% (of the games), that is not easy."
Given the rate at which they are going, the Rangers' focus is no longer merely on reaching the playoffs but on rising as high in the standings as possible. Finishing sixth in the East would enable them to open the postseason against the Southeast Division winner rather than high-powered Buffalo or the New Jersey.
The Rangers' next game is on Saturday afternoon at Boston against a Bruins team they have outscored 16-2 this season. Should Tampa Bay lose to New Jersey on Thursday night, the Rangers would be playing for sole possession of sixth in Boston.
After Prucha gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the first period on Wednesday, Jagr and Avery broke the game open in the first seven minutes of the middle frame.
Jagr was the first to break through, giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead just 1:26 into the period as he capitalized on a power-play opportunity that had carried over from the closing seconds of the first 20 minutes.
Taking a pass from defenseman Michal Rozsival in the right circle, Jagr rifled a high, hard wrist shot that caught the arm of Flyers defenseman Denis Gauthier and deflected up into the top left corner of the net behind Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki, who finished the night with 29 saves.
It didn't take much longer for the Rangers to go up by three goals thanks to the hard work of Sean Avery, playing center on Wednesday between Ryan Callahan and Shanahan.
Avery had given the Rangers yet another power play chance when he drew a tripping penalty to R.J. Umberger during a faceoff in the Flyers zone at 7:14. Only 36 seconds later, he made Philadelphia pay for the mistake, firing a shot from the right circle off the right post and into the net. The goal came after defenseman Thomas Pock had passed up a shot from the right point to feed Avery down low. Brendan Shanahan picked up the second assist on the goal, much to the delight of the fans.
"It was great," Shanahan said of Wednesday's game. "I wanted to step in and fit in and not distract or disrupt, play a simple game and try to contribute to the win."
Shanahan would later help set up Avery's second goal of the game, which closed out the scoring at 12:34 of the third period. That goal capped off a pretty passing play between the entire No. 2 line.
'There are nerves and apprehension, all of that stuff leading up but I think what you are conditioned and trained to do in (these) situations is to go full speed ahead," said Shanahan. "You have to get in games to get that feeling over with. It was nice to get the first couple of shifts out of the way and then go from there."
Shanahan got the process rolling, when he picked up a loose puck just inside the Rangers' zone and started a breakout that led to Callahan coming down the right wing alongside his linemates. Callahan fed a pass down low to Shanahan, cruising in on Niitymaki's left. Rather than shoot, he dropped a centering pass to a blazing Avery, who deposited a backhander into the net for the 5-0 lead.
"We played well together," Callahan said of the line. "Those guys are great players. I just try to feed off of them, try to go to the net when they shoot the puck. I think that our line worked pretty hard tonight and got rewarded."
The other third-period goal came from Ortmeyer, and it was evidence of just how many breaks have gone the Rangers' way of late. Center Matt Cullen started the play by speeding into the Flyers zone and sending a blast wide of the net to Niitymaki's right. The puck hit the back boards and rebounded out around the other side of the net right to Ortmeyer, who notched his second goal of the season to make it 4-0 at 10:06 of the third.
The Rangers nearly scored a sixth goal in Wednesday's game during another power play at 3:11 of the second period, but the apparent tally by Prucha was overruled.
With Philadelphia's Joni Pitkanen in the penalty box for shooting the puck over the glass from the defensive zone, the Blueshirts mounted heavy power-play pressure on the Flyers. A shot from the right side of the ice deflected into the net off Prucha's skates, bringing the Garden Faithful to their feet. After a video review, officials determined that Prucha had kicked the puck past Niittymaki, and the initial goal call was overturned.
As has been the throughout the Rangers' recent surge in the standings, Lundqvist was sharp whenever he had to be in all three periods, although he faced only two shots in the final 20 minutes.
It was in the second period that the Rangers goalie truly earned his shutout. He finished the middle frame with eight saves, making his finest two midway through the period on back-to-back shots from Randy Jones and Mike Knuble, who were both just outside the crease at point-blank range.
Prucha's early first-period goal set the tone for the evening, but the hero of the opening frame was clearly Shanahan, who had missed 15 games with a concussion suffered when these teams last met at the Garden on Feb. 17.
Shanahan drew thunderous cheers from the home fans when he took the ice for his first shift just over two minutes into the period. Incredibly, though, he entered the game only moments after a Philadelphia player had left suffered a head injury and left the ice on a stretcher.
That frightening scenario, eerily reminiscent of what when Shanahan lay on the ice 32 days earlier, took place only 21 seconds into the game. Philadelphia's Todd Fedoruk and the Rangers' Colton Orr had dropped the gloves and begun a fight that ended with Orr landing a crushing punch to the left side of Fedoruk's head.
Fedoruk went down hard, and it was immediately clear he had suffered a serious head injury from the blow. Left unconscious, he did not move for several minutes, and a stretcher was finally brought out to take him to the locker room.
"You never want to see a guy get hurt," said Flyers head coach John Stevens. "When a guy leaves the ice, especially on a stretcher, it's something you don't ever want to see. Obviously, he got hit hard and he was injured. Immediately, you're thinking for his safety. I'm glad they had help there right away. Hopefully, he recovers quickly from it."
Lundqvist said that seeing Fedoruk knocked out had a chilling effect on all of the players.
" It felt a little bit weird. Our focus wasn't on hockey. Five minutes after it happened the game was kind of slow," said Lundqvist. "You don't want to see that happen."
The injury delayed the game for several minutes, and when play finally resumed Shanahan was soon taking the ice to tremendous cheers of "Shan-ny, Shan-ny" -- the same cheers that had woken him up after he was knocked out in the collision with his former Detroit teammate Knuble, who suffered a concussion and broken bones in his face.
"I felt really bad for him (Fedoruk) because I know what he is going through," said Shanahan. "I saw immediately when he hit the ice, when your arms go up by your side like that; it means that you are knocked out. It was an eerie feeling. Obviously I was concerned about him but at the same time I had some flashbacks myself. I heard he had some fighting spirit left when they were getting on the stretcher, he didn't want to get on. That was a good sign. It is an unfortunate thing. They are two honest guys. They have a difficult job to do. That just goes to show that it is a dangerous job."
Less than three minutes after emerging from the penalty box, Orr found himself in another fight with the Flyers' Ben Eager at the 8:00 mark. Orr had not played in the Feb. 17 game, a physical battle that the Flyers won 5-3. This time, he made it clear that his team would not be pushed around at all.
"It was just a fair fight. It was a good fight," Orr said of the bout with Fedoruk. "He is going to hit you so you want to hit him. The same thing could have happened to me. It is part of the game. ... I hope he is all right. You don't want to see that happen. It is a tough game, but you don't want to see him get hurt like that."
Prucha gave the Rangers their early lead at the 3:40 mark, when he took a pass from defenseman Dan Girardi in the neutral zone, skated over the blueline in the slot area, and reached back for a hard wrister just as he began to overskate the puck. His shot found its way through Niittymaki's pads and into the net for the 1-0 lead that helped restore a focus on hockey following the unnerving scene that had quieted the Garden.
The goal was Prucha's 19th of the season, bringing him to the brink of 20 for a second straight year. That would make him the first Rangers player since Alexei Kovalev in 1994 to score 20 in each of his first two NHL seasons with the team.
Lundqvist, leading the entire NHL in both goals-against average and save percentage over the last 20 games, came up with his best save of the first period at 13:49, when he kept his balance long enough to deny Jeff Carter's backhand from just outside the crease. Earlier in the period, he also made a big stop on a shot by Dmitry Afanasenkov at 8:52.
"We are playing a great game right now," said Lundqvist. "I know the first and second periods are important, especially the first. After that, we get our game going."
The first period ended with the Rangers on the power play, after Ryan Hollweg drew an interference call against Afanasenkov with only 10 seconds to go. That power play carried over into the second period, when Jagr scored to make it 2-0.
"This team (Rangers) was revved up with a lot at stake playing at home, and with Shanahan coming back," said Flyers coach Stevens. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. We generated some chances, but didn't finish. It was an uphill battle. They just kept pecking away. They played a very solid game. They were the better team tonight."
Jagr agreed that having Shanahan back really fired up the Rangers, who still have four regulars (Fedor Tyutin, Karel Rachunek, Marcel Hossa and Martin Straka) out with injuries.
"That was huge," said the Blueshirts captain. "Hopefully, other guys come back soon. We just have to keep winning. We are going to get better when we are at full strength."