It seems like every game since the defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins three weeks ago has been a must-win for the New York Rangers. At that point, the Blueshirts found themselves seven points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, with not many games remaining in the schedule.
Not until last night, however, has it been an official lose and you're out game.
The Rangers held off the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 Friday night at Madison Square Garden in the first game of a home-and-home series which concludes Sunday afternoon at the Wachovia Center, and thus remain in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
The Rangers, who have now gone 7-1-1 in their last nine games, fought off an early goal by Mike Richards after a rare blunder by Marc Staal just 40 seconds into the game, with goals from Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik, and Jody Shelley, who is known more for his fist than his finesse.
"It was an emotional game and it was physical," said Gaborik, whose game-winning goal late in the second period off a Chris Pronger turnover, tied his career high total of 42. "It was the same kind of game we are anticipating in Philly.
"Once again, if we win, we're in; if we lose, we're out, so we believe we're going to make it," said the Slovak winger.
Chris Drury has continued his improved play over the past couple weeks, scoring a powerplay goal midway through the first period to tie the game at one.
It was Jody Shelley's goal, his first a Ranger and first in over a calender year, that gave the Rangers their first lead of the game, when he wristed a Brandon Prust pass by Flyers' goalie Brian Boucher.
"You want to know that if you go down a goal you can come back," said Shelley. "We have the firepower and the goaltending and that's the kind of confidence you want."
Brandon Dubinsky also reached a career milestone of his own, when his 20th of the year made it 3-1 6:58 into the second period, roofing a slick behind the net pass from Gaborik.
The Flyers battled back on goals by Danny Briere and Richards' second of the game. But it wasn't enough, as Gaborik's floater held up to be the game winner.
Coach John Tortorella said the more laid-back approach his team has taken since the loss in Boston has helped get things back on track. "We are loose," said Tortorella. "I think the pressure is on them. We feel very comfortable playing on the road."
It wasn't all pleasantries for the Rangers. Ryan Callahan, who was named the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner for the second consecutive season, left the game midway through the second period with what appeared to be a re-aggravation of the leg injury that sidelined him for a handful of games the past couple of weeks.
The stage is set for quite a game Sunday in the city of Brotherly Love.
All quotes courtesy of Newsday's Steve Zipay's Blue Notes blog.