NEW YORK — It wasn't an aesthetically pleasing contest at Madison Square Garden. The game had all the intensity of a mid-November get-together between teams from opposite conferences, all the flow of a 20-on-20 game involving six-year-olds—and the apathetic nature of the crowd likely had just as much to do with what it was witnessing with the noon start.
It's not a Game 5 that will go down in the annals of playoff history as one of the all-time greats, but it was another example of how the New York Rangers will very likely prevail in this series.
Depth. Composure. Goaltending.
The Philadelphia Flyers didn't have enough of it, and they now must win the final two games of this best-of-seven series to reach the second round after the Rangers emerged with a 4-2 victory that gave them a 3-2 edge in the series.
The Rangers received three goals from three separate lines, with the empty-netter to seal the game coming from fourth-liner Brian Boyle. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 24 shots, both goals slipping through him via deflections off his teammates—one on a power play and a second after the Flyers vacated their net for an extra attacker.
There were chances for the Rangers to unravel too. A sure goal by Martin St. Louis in the second period that would have given the Rangers a 2-0 lead was disallowed because referee Justin St. Pierre blew the play dead when he lost sight of the puck. There was no sag in the shifts that immediately followed, and eventually, the Rangers extended the lead to 3-0 on goals by Brad Richards and Dominic Moore.
After Claude Giroux's first goal of the series with 1:29 remaining cut the lead to 3-2, the Rangers regrouped to prevent the Flyers from getting even a sniff at extending the game to overtime.
The Rangers had their will tested in this swing game, and they answered the bell every time.
"After Game 3, I think the emotions got to us with the ups and downs," Richards said. "We talked about, if you want to win, you're going to get a lot of different things come at you. It's got to be an even keel. (The referees) are doing their best, trying to make the calls they see fit. They're not doing anything else other than that. If they don't see it, you try to talk to them. I've never seen a call changed, so we've got to take that and build off it and use it as motivation and use our emotions the right way.
"I think that's what we did. We came out and continued to play well in the second period."
The same could be said for the final 89 seconds of the third period, as the Rangers didn't allow the Flyers to attempt a shot that could have tied the game. The Flyers called timeout to rest their stars after Giroux scored, yet it did nothing against a Rangers team that refused to be rattled.
"I really didn't put too much thought into that," Boyle said. "It was kind of a fluky second goal. They had a guy in front and it just kind of went through. It was off-speed. We were pretty calm before that. Our team has been pretty good with that this year, kind of just taking the game as it comes. We just kind of reevaluate and see what comes next, next shift. Whether we score or give up a goal, it's always kind of the next shift. That's the mindset."
Each team made a significant lineup change in this game—the Rangers inserted J.T. Miller on the second line for Daniel Carcillo while the Flyers replaced an injured Nicklas Grossmann with Hal Gill, who was a healthy scratch for 76 games this season.
Miller assisted on Richards' goal that made it 2-0 and happened to be on the ice when Moore capitalized on a stumbling Gill to steal the puck for a quick goal that made it 3-0.
The understandably rusty Gill, who had no favors done for him with defense partner Braydon Coburn lobbing a hand grenade into his feet with the speedy Moore nearby, was mostly a liability while Miller was a steady, albeit unspectacular, contributor in not only his first career playoff game, but his first NHL game in nearly a month.
Sure, the Rangers' top line of Martin St. Louis, Derek Stepan and Rick Nash demolished the Flyers' checking line of Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Jason Akeson throughout the game, but the small windows involving part-time depth players paid some of the biggest dividends for the Rangers and did the most damage to the Flyers.
"I felt like the one-on-one battles, we did a really good job," Lundqvist said. "It's part of the game against these guys all over the ice to win one-on-one battles. It decides a lot about where the puck is going and who is going to get the big chances. We talked about it after a couple games; every play matters and right now, when games are tight, you need to be smart about it. The biggest part is to be poised and control the momentum swings."
After a stellar 37-save performance in Game 4, Steve Mason turned into a pumpkin in Game 5. He looked uncomfortable on a simple dump-in early in the first period that bounced off him and into the corner, then was beaten by a Marc Staal wrist shot a capable No. 1 goaltender should turn aside every time. Mason said afterward he wasn't screened and the puck wasn't deflected, taking blame for the game's first goal.
Mason was slipping around like a newborn foal on a freshly waxed kitchen floor on Richards' goal and was unable to bail out Gill when Moore scored.
Lundqvist was the beneficiary of strong defensive play in front of him, rarely having to make a difficult stop.
The difference between the two goaltenders was Lundqvist didn't allow the bad goal while Mason flubbed a dipping wrist shot that put the Flyers in catch-up mode for the final 48 minutes of the game.
"He's one of the best goalies in the league, and we are aware of that," Giroux said. "We need to get traffic and put more pucks on net. If you want to beat him, you need to have nice shots. He played well today."
The problem for the Flyers is that there's very little chance of this changing in both Games 6 and 7. The two games Philadelphia has won in this series required outstanding goaltending performances from Ray Emery in Game 2 and Mason in Game 4. If Grossmann doesn't return, that leaves coach Craig Berube with either Gill once again or Erik Gustafsson, a more mobile defenseman than Gill (a corpse is more mobile than Gill) but one that has less experience.
Mason had a .909 save percentage over the final four months of the regular season, is a .907 goaltender for his career and has an .896 career save percentage in seven postseason games. Asking him to steal two elimination games is like asking your 12-year-old to drive you home in a snowstorm.
Making matters worse, the Rangers haven't lost a Game 7 at home in the history of their franchise; they're 5-0 all time in those situations and have won their past three Game 7s overall (two in 2012, one in 2013).
The Rangers were a little bit better Sunday and have been a little bit better since the puck dropped on this series. That's very unlikely to change.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.
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