The Philadelphia Flyers concocted the perfect recipe for beating the New York Rangers.
If the Flyers can carry over that blueprint that led to a 5-2 victory Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center in Game 6 of their first-round series into Game 7, they'll find themselves in a second-round showdown with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The five-on-five numbers from Game 6 don't reflect well on the Flyers—whether the situation was close, tied or neither, the Rangers held about a 60/40 shot-attempt edge across the board—but they didn't allow much in the way of glorious chances when they were fumbling away the puck at an alarming rate in the first period. Steve Mason's toughest and most meaningful save came against Benoit Pouliot with the Flyers ahead, 2-0, in the second period, and seconds later, Erik Gustafsson scored on a breakaway after exiting the penalty box to make it 3-0.
Mason was very good, to be sure, as he made 34 saves and only lost his shutout late in the third period when the outcome was no longer in doubt. But it was nothing like his 37-save performance in Game 4, when he had to stand on his head just to give the Flyers a chance to win.
In Game 6, the Flyers gave themselves a chance to win with a disciplined performance and a potent power play. If they can replicate that in Game 7, it won't come down to Mason stealing a game because he won't have to do so.
As Katie Strang of ESPN New York wrote: "If little separates these two teams, as both coaches have preached throughout the series, then maybe Philadelphia's ability to seize the big moments is a harbinger of things to come.
On Tuesday night, Pouliot took about the dumbest, most needless penalty in the history of the playoffs when he grabbed Claude Giroux around his neck and pulled him to the ice behind the play in the first period. It led to the first of two power-play goals from the Flyers, who need to win the special-teams battle in order to offset the Rangers' even-strength puck-possession advantage.
The Flyers took three of their five minor penalties once the score was 3-0, so they kept their emotions in check when the game mattered, which is what matters. With the way the Flyers penalty kill is dominating (the Rangers have come up empty on their last 18 power plays), they could probably play the entire Game 7 short-handed and still have a chance to win.
|Rangers-Flyers Through Six Games|
|Team||Shot attempts*||Shot attempts against*||Power play|
|NHL.com, ExtraSkater.com (*even strength)|
More encouraging than anything the Flyers received from their goaltender or special teams has to be the shambled state of the Rangers' top defense pairing—Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, who were on the ice for three of the Flyers' first four goals and mostly responsible for them.
Girardi coughed up the puck on the first of Wayne Simmonds' three goals, attempting an ill-advised cross-ice pass through the neutral zone that was intercepted by Giroux. The ensuing rush led to Simmonds outmuscling McDonagh in front of the net for his goal that made it 1-0. Simmonds made it 2-0 in the second period after Brayden Schenn stole the puck from Girardi and caught a break when he fanned on his shot, as the puck slid right through McDonagh to Simmonds for the easy goal.
For the series, McDonagh and Girardi have negative Corsi shares in all five-on-five situations, perhaps because the Flyers have worn down the pairing with physical play. If anyone can use a day of rest before Game 7, it's McDonagh and Girardi.
Recent history is on the Rangers' side, however: They're 3-0 the past two postseasons in Game 7s, beating the Washington Capitals on the road in 2013 and the Ottawa Senators and Capitals at home in 2012. All-time, the Rangers are 5-0 in Game 7s at Madison Square Garden.
Goaltending history is on the Flyers' side, however: Mason and Henrik Lundqvist each made four starts on zero days' rest this season; Mason is 4-0-0 with a .908 save percentage, while Lundqvist is 1-3-0 with an .879 save percentage.
The Flyers have yet to play a quality game at MSG during this series, winning Game 2 there only by the grace of Ray Emery shutting the door after his team fell behind 2-0. That represents the Flyers' only victory at MSG over the past two seasons.
Claude Giroux: "If we win Game 7 it'll feel even more special because it's over there. Have to take that as motivation."— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) April 30, 2014
That's all irrelevant now. What counts more than anything is the Flyers figured out a way to soundly beat the Rangers when they needed it most. If they can make a carbon copy of Game 6, they'll walk out of Madison Square Garden with a win in Game 7.