By: Michael Abitabilo
With their thrilling 4-1 defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers in game one of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Thursday night, the New York Rangers have laid out a blue(shirt)print for success in the remainder of the series.
The Rangers played with poise and discipline throughout, standing up for themselves physically but refusing to engage in the post-whistle or behind-the-play shenanigans for which the Flyers are infamous. With the score tied at 1 entering the third period, the Rangers were able to clamp down defensively, holding the Flyers to just one shot in the final frame. When the Flyers’ Jason Akeson took a double minor for high sticking 7:35 into the third, the Rangers took advantage of his gaffe by scoring two goals in a 47-second span on the ensuing power plays to take a commanding 3-1 lead.
One game does not a series win, of course. But the Rangers did more than just hold serve last night. By making the Flyers pay for their bad penalties, the Rangers may have altered the trajectory of the series. In advance of game two (and beyond), the Flyers’ coaching staff will undoubtedly emphasize the need to play with discipline and avoid playing shorthanded. This could mitigate one of the Flyers’ perceived advantages in this series, i.e. their physical play and Broad Street Bully mentality. Simply put: the Flyers will not win this series if they continue to take three penalties for every one taken by the Rangers. If they didn’t know that before, they certainly do now.
Some other notes from last night’s game:
- While the game will be remembered for the two power play goals in the third period, one of its most crucial moments came near the end of the second period. With the game tied at 1, Mats Zuccarello was about to be called for a roughing minor. Instead of just touching the puck to stop play, Derick Brassard drew contact from the Flyers’ Braden Schenn resulting in a two-minute minor for high-sticking, and nullifying what would have been a Flyers’ power play.
- Brad Richards was dynamic throughout the game. Oh what a difference a year can make. Carl Hagelin played one of his best games of the season, utilizing his speed every chance he had.
- Mats Zuccarello has officially reached cult status among the Madison Square Garden faithful.
- John Moore and Kevin Klein have become as solid of a third defense pair as you will find in the NHL. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault must agree: Moore played 16:41, up from his regular season average of 15:20, and Klein played 16:06, up from regular season average of 15:01. Vigneault’s trust in Moore and Klein will allow him to avoid consistently playing first pair defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi more than 25:00 per game, which should bode well over the long haul should the Rangers make a run.
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Mike Abitabilo is the co-founder of the Read Zone, and hopes the Easter Bunny will bring a game two victory for the Rangers.