Flyers Hang on in New York, 3-2
The Philadelphia Flyers strolled into Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers on Sunday with a chance to end their early-year road trip on a positive note. Nine of the team’s last ten games were played on the road, including a four game west coast swing. With the friendly home ice awaiting them, the Flyers picked up a hard fought 3-2 victory in Manhattan. In doing so, they finished their tough stretch with 14 of 20 possible points and remained atop the Eastern Conference standings.
In the first period (and for the remainder of the game, for that matter), the Flyers power play was anything but remarkable in the game’s box score. However, the box score isn’t entirely indicative of the impact the man advantage had on the game. The game’s first goal came from the stick of Jeff Carter a little over six minutes into the game. His deflection of a Matt Carle point shot beat Marty Biron to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.
Carter’s goal came merely 12 seconds after the Rangers had effectively killed the Flyers’ first power play opportunity. But, the Flyers managed to maintain puck possession after Brandon Dubinsky’s hooking penalty expired, and it made a difference. Surprisingly enough, the Flyers’ second goal was under very similar circumstances.
With 5:06 remaining in the first period, the Flyers struck again. This time, it was Leino who was the beneficiary of a play in front of the net as he put the puck behind Biron. After it seemed that the Rangers would grab some momentum from killing Matt Gilroy’s hooking penalty, Andrej Meszaros came to the Flyers’ rescue.
Meszaros held onto the puck brilliantly as he skated along the sideboards just long enough to find Leino sitting right in front of the net. The play was setup by the defenseman’s ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone following the power play. This time, the goal came just six seconds after New York’s penalty had expired, but nonetheless the end of the power play led to the goal.
Although the Flyers held a 2-0 lead after one, they were caught on their heels when Meszaros took a tripping penalty less than three minutes into the period. Then the shorthanded duo of Claude Giroux and Mike Richards made their presence known. Giroux took a loose puck in the defensive zone and streaked down the ice before lifting a beautiful saucer pass over a sprawling Ranger. Richards fired a one-timer off the pass and beat Biron to give the Flyers a 3-0 lead.
After two periods, the score remained 3-0, and it seemed as if the lead was too large for the Rangers to overcome. In fact, almost halfway through the third period the lead still seemed insurmountable. The Flyers seemingly became complacent with the lead, and the Rangers made them pay.
Wojtek Wolski got the first tally for the Blueshirts when he fired a wrist shot at Brian Boucher from an awful angle. Boucher was in poor position and the shot found his five-hole with 10:47 remaining in the game. The Flyers’ two-goal advantage wouldn’t last long.
On a defensive breakdown less than three minutes later, Derek Stepan notched his 13th goal of the season. Mats Zuccarello found Stepan with a centering pass from behind the net, and Boucher had no chance on the young winger’s snap shot to the open net. The Flyers went from coasting to an easy victory to struggling to keep the lead in just a few minutes.
Somehow, the Flyers were able to weather the Rangers’ furious effort in the last 8:23 and skate out of Madison Square Garden with two points. Although they had their way for most of the game, the team showed how important it is to play a full 60 minutes of hockey. With the win, the Flyers moved to 29-11-5 on the season and maintained their three point advantage on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Eastern Conference’s best record.
Despite Sunday’s lackadaisical third period, the Flyers continued their winning ways. After surviving the first ten games of their tough 15 game stretch, the team heads back to Philadelphia to play four of their next five.
For most teams, a home stretch on the itinerary is a beautiful sight. For the Flyers and their NHL-best road record, it may just be another slate of games on the schedule.