The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers split this year's regular season series, each taking both games on their home ice.
In Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals on Thursday night, the Rangers made sure to continue that trend.
Brad Richards scored one goal and tallied two assists in the third period as Alain Vigneault's squad broke open a close game and coasted to a 4-1 victory to take an early advantage in the seven-game series:
Rangers beat Flyers, 4-1, to take 1-0 series lead. Brad Richards scores a goal, adds 2 assists for New York.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 18, 2014
The Rangers' official Twitter feed noted the three stars of the game:
When asked about Richards, who continues to come through with crucial playoff performances, Vigneault put it simply:
Richards also commented on his game with The Associated Press (via ESPN):
If you don't score or don't get momentum there, it can go the other way pretty quickly, and they can build off that. One was huge, but to be able to go back out there and get the other one, obviously that won us the game.
While the contest was even on the scoreboard through 40 minutes, the Rangers dominated most of the game, evidenced by a 36-15 advantage in shots on goal. The Flyers fought hard, but mental mistakes in the third period let New York pull away with two power-play goals.
CSN Philly's Tim Panaccio summed it up:
Flyers talked TEAM discipline all week and this 3rd period has been a disgrace in that respect— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) April 18, 2014
Philly got the scoring started just over seven minutes into the first period. Scott Hartnell began the play with a crushing hit on Ryan McDonagh to recover the puck behind New York's net, and he proceeded to find an open Andrew MacDonald just in front of the blue line.
The 27-year-old Nova Scotian did the rest, firing a heat-seeking missile right past Henrik Lundqvist to make it 1-0. The team's Twitter feed provided a look at the beautiful assist and slap shot:
As TSN's Mark Masters pointed out, Hartnell's momentum-shifting play was simply the result of a preemptive gameplan:
Scott Hartnell said he'd be physical on McDonagh every chance he got tonight … his big hit on the NYR d-man leads to opening goal— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 17, 2014
From there, though, it was essentially all New York.
It didn't take long for the Rangers to even the score, as a scramble in front of the goal resulted in Mats Zuccarello slotting home the rebound to make it 1-1 with 9:07 remaining. Benoit Pouliot and Marc Staal were credited with the assists.
After scoring the first goal, the second line of Zuccarello, Pouliot and Derick Brassard continued to look like the Rangers' most dangerous unit for much of the first 40 minutes.
Newsday's Arthur Staple put it simply:
Brassard hits the post, Emery stops Pouliot off rush. Zuccarello-Brassard-Pouliot by far best NYR line.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) April 18, 2014
Thanks in large part to that trio, New York created several encouraging opportunities in the second period, but it wasn't able to break the tie due to the heroics of Flyers netminder Ray Emery.
ESPN's Katie Strang put a number behind Emery's performance, while Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe was a little more blunt with his analysis:
Ray Emery is a BAAAAAAAAAAAD Man.— Adam Lefkoe (@AdamLefkoe) April 18, 2014
New York's pressure would eventually prove to be too much for Emery, though, as a four-minute power play thanks to a double high-sticking penalty against Jason Akeson led to two quick goals for the Rangers.
The first came 8:22 into the period, as a clean entry into the zone and quick passing led to a shot in front of goal for Martin St. Louis. His attempt ricocheted off Kimmo Timonen right to Richards, who quickly put it home before Emery could move across his crease.
It took less than a minute for the 33-year-old to out-do himself.
After some beautiful, succinct puck movement, St. Louis found Richards, who delivered a gorgeous pass through the defense to Derek Stepan for the easy finish:
Carl Hagelin would add an icing-on-the-cake fourth goal with 4:08 left to seal the game and give the Rangers a 1-0 series lead.
New York was clearly the better team on Thursday, but if there's a takeaway for the Flyers, it's that they were tied with 12 minutes to go on the road before a stupid play led to things unraveling down the stretch.
The ability to steal a game on the road will decide this series, and Philly will get another opportunity to do that in Game 2 on Sunday afternoon.
If Richards, Zuccarello, St. Louis and Co. continue to look as strong on the offensive end, though, that's going to be a highly difficult proposition for the Flyers.