NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers haven't made it easy on themselves all series, so there's no reason to think that Game 7 should've been any different. Regardless, the Blueshirts held on to knock off the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden to punch their ticket for a second-round matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Rangers had to white-knuckle their way through a tense third period, in which they were outplayed by the Flyers. Rookie Jason Akeson cut a two-goal lead in half, but New York was able to hold on for the victory. Philly surged in the final frame but couldn't find the equalizer with their season hanging in the balance.
And to think, it wasn’t even Philly’s goaltending that let it down. In fact, Flyers netminder Steve Mason was downright phenomenal in his third start of the series, making 31 saves in a spectacular performance that deserved much, much better. Mason even outplayed Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, but Lundqvist left the ice with the only thing that mattered Wednesday night: a win.
A look ahead: The Rangers are likely facing a quick turnaround with the start of their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins reportedly slated for Friday, making it a possibility that they could play five games in eight nights. Meanwhile, the Pens have had some time to rest following a series-ending victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6 on Monday night, and that recovery time might be a blessing for a Pittsburgh team that got quite a scare from the Blue Jackets in an unpredictable and gritty first-round series.
Though Evgeni Malkin came to life for the Penguins with a hat trick in Game 6, superstar captain Sidney Crosby was held without a goal for the entire series as former Rangers Brandon Dubinsky made him work for every inch of ice.
Rangers Home Wins
Postseason Game 7s
Strong second: After a high-paced, evenly-matched first period that was scoreless after 20 minutes, the Rangers took over the game despite Mason’s heroics in the Flyers’ net. Mason was far and away the Flyers' best player on the ice through two periods, making save after spectacular save, but he didn’t get much help in front as the Rangers built a two-goal lead in the second period.
After Daniel Carcillo’s goal early in the frame, Benoit Pouliot gave the Rangers a 2-0 advantage, converting a deft feed from beneath the goal line for a scoring sequence on which Mason had virtually had no chance.
Earlier in the period, Pouliot went to the penalty box for a questionable goaltender-interference call, making that the fourth offensive-zone penalty he has taken this series. A huge penalty kill, replete with a superior shot-blocking sequence, gave the Rangers a lift, and Pouliot was able to capitalize on the other end.
Grit factor: Rangers coach Alain Vigneault would not tip his hand about any potential lineup changes prior to Game 7, but he opted for some physicality and snarl when he inserted Carcillo into the lineup instead of 21-year-old center J.T. Miller, who played in Games 5 and 6. Using Carcillo, who scored a big goal against his former team in Game 3 in Philadelphia, proved to be a wise decision as the master antagonist gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead after notching his second of the series early in the second period. Carcillo cashed in on an excellent backhanded feed from Mats Zuccarello -- laced through two Flyers defenders -- following an impressive pair of saves by Mason earlier in the sequence.