‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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The Philadelphia Flyers were finally able to snap their nine-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden by defeating the Rangers 4-2, evening the series at 1-1 as the series shifts to Philly.
On Easter Sunday, the Flyers were able to successfully distract the Rangers from playing their kind of game. The Rangers went up 2-0, but fell into the Flyers’ trap once the “Broad Street Bullies” turned on their trademark goon show and got under the Rangers’ skin.
Take nothing away from Jakub Voracek’s wonderful individual effort to get the Flyers on the board at 14:14 in the first period. Voracek turned on the jets and blew past Ryan McDonagh and beat Henrik Lundqvist stick side. Same goes for the opportunistic efforts by Jason Akeson and Luke Schenn to pounce on the loose rebounds surrendered by Lundqvist.
The Flyers were indeed more dialed in than the Rangers for the final two periods because they know how to successfully use post-whistle scrum tactics to throw the Rangers off their game. Philly loves their trash-talking, face-washing, elbow-raising Flyers.
Head coach Alain Vigneault demands that his Rangers play from whistle to whistle, avoiding all the junk that happens in between. In other words, the Rangers don’t need to respond when the Flyers poke and prod with their verbal jabs and their pitchforks. The Blueshirts simply need to focus on the playing uptempo, skilled, puck-possesion hockey that allowed them to finish above the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division.
Following Game 2, Vigneault raised his arm in his postgame press conference to indicate the Flyers’ tendency to use their elbows.
“It’s tough to get away from after a whistle when somebody does this, until the referee breaks it up.” Vigneault said. “We’re trying to play whistle to whistle. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
While the Rangers did not get drawn into unnecessary penalties, their focus was lost. Their power play slumped to 1-for-6 on Sunday.
“When the other team makes mistakes, you’ve got to be able to make them pay,” Vigneault said.
Alternate captain Brad Richards bemoaned the Rangers’ luck, while crediting the Flyers’ opportunistic play.
“We had some power plays tonight that we didn’t get done,” Richards said. “We had some point-blank chances that (Ray) Emery made some big saves on. It could go either way in some of those situations. They seemed to be very opportunistic on their chances and they won.”
Alternate captain Marc Staal felt the Flyers grabbed the momentum and the Rangers did not do enough to grab it back.
“They made a good push there in the second and we weren’t able to stop it,” Staal said. “Now we have to go into Philly and try to get a couple (wins).”
The Rangers can regain control of the series by staying away from the Flyers baiting them with trash talk and post-whistle nonsense. When they enter Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, they will be entering a cauldron of noise as the Flyers will use their nastiness and physicality to charge up their home crowd. If the Rangers can focus and execute their system, they should win this series.
EXPECT FAST TO BE SCRATCHED AND CARCILLO TO PLAY IN GAME 3
22-year-old winger Jesper Fast only took three shifts in the third period of Game 2, logging 2:23 in the final period and logging 8:49 in total ice time.
The Richards line struggled in Game 2. Carl Hagelin and Fast were not effective on Sunday. Vigneault switched up some of his lines, searching for a third-period spark.
Vigneault double-shifted Rick Nash on the Richards-Hagelin line, then experimented by placing Brian Boyle on the Richards-Hagelin line.
The one line that remained intact was the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line, and there’s no reason to break it up. The P-B-Z line is executing tape-to-tape passes and was the Blueshirts’ most effective line throughout the regular season.
Fast remained glued to the bench. Vigneault said afterward that he was “shortening his bench.”
Expect Fast to be scratched for Game 3 and the rugged Dan Carcillo to enter the Rangers’ lineup when the series shifts to Philly on Tuesday. As mentioned earlier, the Rangers can’t allow themselves to be dragged into playing the Flyers’ brand of hockey.
But having a guy like Carcillo at Vigneault’s disposal allows the Rangers to have an added barrier and resistance for when the Flyers engage in post-whistle nastiness.
IF YOU THINK NASH IS THE PROBLEM, YOU’RE NOT WATCHING
Everyone tends to pile on Nash because he has one goal in 14 playoff games as a Ranger. In these playoffs, Nash has been doing his job. He’s not scoring, but he’s consistently getting shots on goal and has registered assists in both games against the Flyers.
Nash has tested Emery with 13 shots on goal in two games. Most of the renowned goal-scorers in this league tend to be streaky. Nash is no different. When Nash catches fire, fans sing his praises. If he isn’t lighting the lamp, Nash becomes a convenient scapegoat.
Even without the goals, Nash is certainly contributing. He’s formed a good understanding with linemates Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis. Together, the trio is demonstrating good puck movement and creativity.
Knock Nash if you want, but he’s capable of grabbing this series by the scruff of its neck and dominating.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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