By Steve Silverman
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If you think momentum is going to be a big factor in Game 7 between the Rangers and the Flyers, think again.
That game is over and even though the Flyers came through with a dominant effort and cruised to an easy 5-2 victory, that game will have nothing to do with the outcome Wednesday night.
The seventh game will likely be determined by how effectively the Rangers use their speed and quickness, and the performance of Henrik Lundqvist in the net.
If you go back to Game 5, the Rangers were faster and quicker from start to finish and won the large majority of the puck battles. The Flyers seemed disinterested for much of the afternoon.
In Game 6, the Flyers played with desperation, and that was a huge factor. They may not have won all the races, but they won a lot of puck battles – certainly a lot more than they won on Sunday. They also had the game’s X-factor in Wayne Simmonds, who stationed himself in front of the net and refused to be moved from his position and scored three goals in the process.
The Rangers are facing the end of their season, so they will come with the assertiveness that was missing from their game Tuesday night.
The Rangers have shown some versatility throughout this series with Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan all leading the way in scoring. Richards is rebounding nicely from last season’s nightmarish playoff scenario that saw him singled out by former coach John Tortorella. He has two goals and four assists – tied for the team scoring lead with St. Louis – and simply looks more comfortable when he has the puck in the offensive zone.
St. Louis is no longer in the grips of the goal-scoring difficulties that impacted him after he was acquired from Tampa Bay. He has a couple of goals in this series and could easily have more. Hagelin and Stepan have also lit the lamp twice for the Rangers, and so has unheralded Dominic Moore and Mats Zuccarello.
However, the Rangers need big man Rick Nash to break through in this seventh game and assert himself with the kind of speed and power that allowed him to score 26 goals this season.
Nash has been a central figure for the Rangers since he was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He has played well in fits and starts in a Rangers uniform, but he has never been the dominant figure that the Blueshirts thought he would become.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Nash has the size and strength to play like a latter-day Phil Esposito, but that has never been the way he’s played the game. Instead, Nash likes to wheel in the offensive zone, create highlight-film plays with his long reach and then drive the puck into the upper reaches of the net.
There has never been much snarl to his game since coming to the Rangers, and if truth be told, he was rarely that kind of player during his run with the Blue Jackets.
Nobody expects Nash to play with the anger of Boston Bruins strong boy Milan Lucic. It’s too late for the 29-year-old Nash, who has been playing in the NHL since the 2002-03 season, to change his overall game. However, he can be more assertive and take a straight line to the net instead of the round-about route he usually chooses.
The Rangers are in familiar position. They won seven-game series in each of the last two seasons, beating Ottawa and Washington, respectively.
They can and should do it again. No matter how the rest of the game plays out, they have Lundqvist, who can still shut down an opponent as well as any goalie in the league when his team needs it most.
They need it most Wednesday night.
For those of us of a certain age, there’s a certain 40-year-old debt the Rangers owe the Flyers. In 1974, the two teams met for the first time in the postseason and the Flyers won that initial seven-game series. That’s the only other seven-game series between these two teams in their history.
The home team won every game, and it was in that seventh game that Flyers bully Dave Schultz pummeled Dale Rolfe and none of the Rangers did anything about it.
That famous beating is often looked at as the turning point in the game. However, Rangers fans who watched that game on television will never forget the image of Vic Hadfield smiling broadly in the game’s final moments with the game all but over.
Rangers fans were coming to grips with an awful defeat to the Flyers and barely holding off tears. Hadfield was all smiles.
Nothing has obscured that image for 40 years. Payback is most definitely needed.
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