NEW YORK -- And we have ourselves a series, folks.
Following a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1, the New York Rangers had the chance to secure a two-game lead at Madison Square Garden, siphon all confidence from the Flyers and send them back to Philadelphia with doubts about whether they could knock off their divisional foe in the best-of-seven set.
Instead, the Rangers let a two-goal lead in the first period disappear as a resilient Flyers squad rattled off four unanswered goals to snap a nine-game losing streak at MSG with a 4-2 win Sunday afternoon. The two teams now head to Philly for Game 3 in what promises to be hostile territory for the Blueshirts at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday.
“We knew they were going to come back and play a better game than last time. It’s going to be a close race,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who gave up three goals on 24 shots. “We didn’t expect this to be easy.”
And it won’t be, if Sunday’s matinee was any indication. Staring down a 2-0 hole after the Rangers exploited some wide-open passing lanes and took advantage of the Flyers’ lack of discipline, Philadelphia surged back with the help of its first line.
Rendered ineffective for the most part on Thursday, the Flyers' top trio of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek got the team on the board off the rush late in the first period and didn’t look back. The Flyers' penalty kill was stellar, limiting the Rangers to just one man-up marker on six power-play attempts. Backup netminder Ray Emery, who was replacing injured starter Steve Mason, was solid in net, making 31 saves to record his first win of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Flyers raised their level of play, as the Rangers expected they would.
“This is a good team. By no means did we think this was going to be an easy series,” said veteran forward Martin St. Louis, who scored his first playoff goal as a New York Ranger on a sharp-angle shot 4:08 into play. “We know we have to be better. We knew that they were going to be better after Game 1, and they were.”
In recent years, the Rangers have shown difficulty in closing out a series quickly, even after taking Game 1. In the 2012 playoffs, the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers took the series opener of both their quarterfinal set against the Ottawa Senators and their semifinal matchup against the Washington Capitals. It took the Rangers seven games to win both series, raising the question of whether fatigue was a factor in the team’s Eastern Conference finals loss to the New Jersey Devils that spring.
Last spring, the Rangers fell down 2-0 before edging the Capitals in seven games. They were then bounced in a matter of five in the second round, outclassed by the dominant Boston Bruins.
New York couldn’t convert on the chances it had to close out Sunday’s game, and the Flyers responded with that needed sense of opportunism.
How much did that hurt the team in the end?
“They were very big,” alternate captain Brad Richards said of the team’s missed opportunities. “We had some power plays tonight that we didn’t get done. We had some point-blank chances that Emery made some big saves on. It could go either way in some of those situations. They seemed to be very opportunistic on their chances, and they won.”
Buckle up. These teams may be in for a lengthy battle.