NEW YORK -- Asked about Dominic Moore's boisterous goal celebration that sent the 6-foot-7, 244-pound Brian Boyle crashing to the ice during the second period, Boyle deadpanned: “He was excited, huh?”
Boyle admitted it “didn’t feel too good” as he was toppled by Moore and his other New York Rangers teammates, but the reward of taking a pivotal Game 5 and a 3-2 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers seemed worth it for the hulking fourth-liner.
Boyle, too, scored a goal in the Rangers’ 4-2 victory against the Flyers, when he buried Moore’s pass to score on an empty net with less than 16 seconds remaining in regulation.
That both Moore and Boyle appeared on the score sheet Sunday afternoon underscored both the team’s depth and the importance of what has become a supremely effective fourth line for the Rangers this season and this series.
The Rangers are not bruising their way to wins or bowling over their division rivals with offensive firepower. But they have consistently employed their speed and skill while utilizing all four lines. Sure, some of the team’s biggest stars have endured scrutiny -- Rick Nash was the one to bear the brunt of the criticism following the loss in Game 4 -- but some of the team’s role players have also stepped up in the most important situations this series.
Moore, who is playing in his first season after taking a year off following the death of his wife, Katie, finished the game with a goal and an assist and also went 6-for-7 from the faceoff circle. Nine different players registered a point for the Rangers.
“We’ve prided ourselves on that all year,” alternate captain Brad Richards said of the team’s depth. “We play four lines. Everybody has a different role. [Moore] is a big PK guy, [on] faceoffs tonight he was unbelievable. ... That’s just our MO. You can't have a good fourth line, and he makes that fourth line go.”
Richards buried a third-chance attempt to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead in the second period, but Moore helped the team build a commanding three-goal advantage later in the frame. Moore pounced on a bouncing puck that Flyers depth defenseman Hal Gill failed to corral and put it home for his second playoff goal of the series.
Though the Rangers had a brief scare late in the third period when the Flyers pulled goaltender Steve Mason for the extra attacker and captain Claude Giroux scored his first goal of the series to make it 3-2, the Rangers preserved the lead in the third period with stingy play and discipline that was lacking in the first two periods. The team's penalty-killing units were, again, excellent.
“Every play matters, and right now, when games are tight, you need to be smart about it,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who turned away 24 of 26 shots faced. “The biggest part is to be poised and control the momentum swings.”
Now comes the difficult part, as the Rangers have the chance to put the Flyers away when they travel to Philadelphia for Game 6. Twice previously in this series, the Blueshirts have allowed the Flyers to climb back into the series and wrest momentum. Avoiding a Game 7 on back-to-back nights would be a major coup for the team’s confidence and energy level.
“We have to go in there and win a game,” said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who tallied the Rangers' first goal of the game at 11:53 of the first period. "We want to get it done in their building and we have to have the killer instinct to get in there and try to get a win.”
This Flyers bunch is a resilient one, though, one that recovered from an abysmal 1-7-0 stretch to start the season to nab the third spot in the Metropolitan Division and secure a berth in the playoffs.
The effort was there on Sunday, but the execution was off. Playing without injured defenseman Nicklas Grossmann didn’t help matters, but that won’t change. Flyers coach Craig Berube confirmed Grossman, who sustained a lower-body injury in Game 4, would not be available for Game 6, either.
And yet Berube sounded optimistic heading into a Game 6 that could decide the team’s postseason fate.
There was nothing on par with Giroux’s Game 4 guarantee, in which Giroux essentially promised the Flyers would tie the series up, but Berube’s confidence in his team was similarly stubborn.
Berube, who took over the post after Peter Laviolette was axed just three games into the season, has seen his squad stare down plenty of challenges already. Each time, he’s seen his players respond with both poise and pluck.
So, naturally, how does he see them responding to a do-or-die situation in Game 6?
“Like they've responded all year. I think we've had our backs against the wall pretty much all year, [they've had to] fight for the playoffs, fight for a lot of things,” Berube said. “Our team will fight again in Game 6.”