The Philadelphia Flyers staved off elimination in dominant fashion in Tuesday's Game 6, defeating the New York Rangers 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center to force a final showdown in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
Although the hosts had just three power-play opportunities over the entire evening, they made sure to capitalize on the first two.
Wayne Simmonds drew first blood by scoring with a man advantage 7:08 into the first period, scored within the first two minutes following the first intermission and then capped off his hat trick with a beautiful redirection past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist late in the second to give the Flyers a 4-0 lead.
HAT TRICK! Wayne Simmonds gets his third with a redirection! Flyers are coasting, up 4-0 in the 2nd period. pic.twitter.com/pYNPFjabP7— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 30, 2014
Hats flew onto the ice as is customary, and ESPN Stats & Info noted how long it had been since a Flyer had pulled off such a feat in the postseason:
Wayne Simmonds: 1st career playoff hat trick, 1st by Flyers player in playoffs vs Rangers since Eric Lindros, 1997— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 30, 2014
Before the game, Simmonds spoke about how important it was for his club to be fearless and implied that it had to be aggressive in order to keep its pursuit of Lord Stanley's Cup alive.
"We can't be scared out there, we've got to go out there to win," Simmonds told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
There was no lack of attack from Simmonds' end, as he set the tone, backed up his words and drove his team to a monumental victory.
That final goal by Simmonds came just over a minute after Philadelphia's Erik Gustafsson lit the lamp, putting the Rangers in an insurmountable hole. The Blueshirts waved the white flag in a sense when they pulled Lundqvist to start the third period.
However, the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard alluded to the grander stakes at play:
Cam Talbot in goal for the Rangers to start third period. Lundqvist resting for Game 7 tomorrow night— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) April 30, 2014
Credit should go to Lundqvist's counterpart Steve Mason, who made 34 saves on 36 shots. Mason stood tall for most of the evening against a star-studded Rangers roster headlined by hot veteran Martin St. Louis, who didn't register a point after putting up six in the first five games.
One monumental stop came on Benoit Pouliot, who had a shot from point-blank range that Mason snagged with his glove, denying New York a golden opportunity to cut its deficit to 2-1 late in the second:
WATCH: Steve Mason makes an incredible glove save on Rangers' Pouliot. --> http://t.co/3YRmB3lEdI— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 30, 2014
That was the story of the night for the Rangers, who controlled possession rather well but were stoned by Mason time and again, converting none of their five power-play chances.
Anthony SanFilippo of PhiladelphiaFlyers.com alluded to the fact that New York kept testing Mason's glove and he repeatedly denied his adversaries:
Steve Mason is just refusing to let anything in. Rangers keep shooting at his glove hand and he keeps snaring them. #Flyers— Anthony SanFilippo (@InsideTheFlyers) April 30, 2014
Toward the end of the game, things got chippy and Mason started to leak when the win was well in hand.
After Carl Hagelin finally put one in for New York to restore some pride, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault opted to pull Cam Talbot to give his team a spark. That was a short-lived effort, as Philadelphia All-Star Claude Giroux potted an empty-netter at 15:49 in the third.
Mason conceded a goal in the final minute to Mats Zuccarello, after which a skirmish ensued and several players were sent to the locker room early.
None of it had any bearing on the fact that the Flyers owned the rink from start to finish.
Going by the pure trend of this series, Tuesday's result is not a surprising outcome. The Flyers have now won all the even-numbered games, while the Rangers have taken all the odd-numbered ones.
Looking forward to Game 7, Jeff Skversky of WPVI-TV in Philadelphia noted how successful the Flyers have been in those decisive contests as of late:
That doesn't mean much, though, because this is a new postseason and this rivalry with the Rangers is as heated as can be. Winning in Madison Square Garden is no small task, and it will be difficult for Philadelphia to play as well as it did for another 60 minutes to come away with a win in the Big Apple.
Although New York will face the pressure of having to bounce back from a flat effort in what could have been a close-out game on Tuesday, it was already gearing up for the grand finale by pulling Lundqvist early.
There were also encouraging signs down the stretch when the Rangers finally got through to Mason, which can be used as a launching point for a quick Wednesday turnaround.
The passion and enthusiasm these teams have played with should translate to an excellent Game 7 on Wednesday, where just about anything can happen.
Expect nothing short of a last-minute thriller where Mason will have to be at his best yet again to outplay Lundqvist and deliver a win for Philadelphia.