Down two within the first nine minutes of Game 2, the Philadelphia Flyers looked like a team that might never get over their Madison Square Garden demons. Fifty-one minutes of stellar hockey later, they're headed back to the City of Brotherly Love having stolen home-ice advantage.
Jakub Voracek, Jason Akeson and Luke Schenn erased the advantage, Wayne Simmonds added an empty-netter late and Ray Emery settled down after a shaky start, as Philadelphia scored a 4-2 victory over the Rangers to knot their best-of-seven series up at 1-1. The series heads to Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
Emery, in for still-ailing starter Steve Mason, vastly improved from the miserable efforts that marred the end of the regular season and cost the Flyers Game 1. With the puck nestled deep into his own blue line for most of the contest, the 31-year-old goaltender survived a barrage of shots to finish with 31 saves.
The only mistakes he made were in the first period, when Benoit Pouliot and Martin St. Louis found the back of the net to put New York ahead 2-0. It was the sixth goal Emery had already given up in the first two games, nearly always coming when the goaltender was moving laterally.
Head coach Craig Berube said following the game that he hadn't made a decision for Game 3 yet, if Mason is cleared to play (via Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer):
The win snaps a nine-game losing streak for the Flyers in New York City's most hallowed arena, which included an 0-3 mark this season. Hapless in their attack during Friday's 4-1 loss, the Flyers again struggled at points getting consistently solid looks. They took only 25 shots compared to New York's 33.
The opportunities Philadelphia did get, however, it took advantage of.
Voracek's goal at the 14:14 mark in the first period helped stop the bleeding of the first few minutes, helping sway the momentum in the road team's favor heading into the second intermission. A quietly stellar component on the Flyers' 2012 playoff team, the 24-year-old winger beat Henrik Lundqvist with a sensational open-ice move to hit the back of the net for his third career playoff goal.
Anton Stralman's two-minute penalty for interference early in the second period opened up the opportunity for Akeson to come through. He knotted the game at 2-2 just three seconds before Stralman was due to come off the bench. Schenn scored the first playoff goal of his career six minutes later to put the Flyers ahead.
Penalty kills as a whole played a huge factor for both sides. Philadelphia killed five of New York's six chances, with Emery coming through with key blocks, and the Flyers' defensive unit sent attempts soaring to the other end of the ice. The at-times aggressive play mirrored the outlook of Game 1, when the Rangers converted only a third of their six penalties while Philadelphia had only one advantage. On Sunday, the Flyers tripled that number and converted on two of three.
But they were still consistently fighting and scrambling for their playoff lives.
Even when the two sides were at full strength, Philly's defense resembled a constant penalty kill. The Flyers took numerous intentional icing calls designed to simply tone down the pressure and gain a temporary reprieve from the puck being in their zone. New York's penchant for turnovers also helped, as the Rangers more than doubled their opponent's giveaways.
The consistent failures caused frustration to mount as the third period went along. Ryan McDonagh and St. Louis were engaged in shoving matches with Flyers players. McDonagh took exception with the actions of Claude Giroux and threw his stick to the ground after a dead play, causing referees to intervene.
It was a game that so often felt in the Rangers' hands but never really was after those opening minutes. New York's two-way pressure is so formidable that it has almost rendered the Flyers offense completely ineffective. The contests are stark contrasts to the way the teams played during the regular season, with the Rangers finishing in the league's bottom half in scoring and the Flyers eighth.
In the playoffs, a team's true colors begin coming out. The Rangers had enough scoring wherewithal during the regular season but were unable to put it together. Their inability to score a third goal despite having so many chances is a concern, but not as much as one would think going forward.
Should the series continue to play out this way, New York is at a strong advantage. The Flyers cannot survive playing a style where their netminder is seeing so many more shots than the opposition. There was improvement from Game 1, when Lundqvist saw only 15 attempts head his way compared to 36 at Emery, but it's nonetheless a dangerous game.
On Sunday, the puck broke the right way. Going into Tuesday, Craig Berube needs to fix the leaks if he wants to make sure the home-ice advantage his team stole doesn't go right back to the city that never sleeps.
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