One word: Domination.
That is probably the best way to describe the New York Rangers effort in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden last night.
In front of a sell-out crowd of 18,200, the intensity in the building seemed to match that of 100,000 people cheering on the Blueshirts, and the team fed off of that energy to get the job done.
For the Flyers, goalie Ray Emery played a spectacular game filling in for the injured Steve Mason, and kept the Flyers in the game until the third period by making 36 saves and standing on his head before the Rangers finally broke the game open.
However, regardless of what the score may have been midway through the final stanza, it was very clear to see – Game One was all Rangers, and what a team performance it was.
The major storyline for the Rangers this season is the play of their top players. The team knew that in order to have a chance, they would need their top players on both sides of the puck to step up, whether it be 5-on-5 or on special teams.
Brad Richards comes up big
Coming into the playoffs, I said that in order for the New York Rangers to be successful, they would need major contributions from center Brad Richards.
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Well in Game One, they got just that and in doing so got one step closer to the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup.
A healthy scratch in the final two games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Blueshirts, Richards elevated his play last night to remind us all that he not only has a Cup to his name, but also a Conn Smythe Trophy as well. He also reminded the New York fan base that in big game situations, he is still a go-to player with plenty left in the tank.
Richards quarterbacked the Rangers powerplay that accounted for two of the Rangers four goals, including the game winning goal scored by Richards.
The Rangers powerplay scored two goals in just 47 seconds to put the team ahead, and knock the Flyers out of the game both on the scoreboard and in the discipline aspect.
Having a 4-minute man advantage on a high-sticking penalty by Jason Akeson that drew blood on Carl Hagelin certainly made the difference in the goal column, however, it is the effort put forth by Richards and the rest of the Rangers roster the entire game that helped them capitalize on the opportunities to take the series opener in convincing fashion.
Richards finished the game with three points (1G-2A), and earned the first star honors in front of a crowd that at this time last year was begging for his contract to be bought out.
However, just like was expected from the start Richards needed to come up big for the Rangers to be successful – and last night, he did just that.
If he keeps up this kind of all-around play, the Rangers are going to be a tough team to beat.
Martin St. Louis shows playoff prowess
With Brad Richards stepping up in the spotlight, it would be easy to forget about his former Tampa Bay Lightning, and current Rangers teammate Martin St. Louis, who among criticism from his lack of point production in the stretch of games after his trade to New York, responded by showing why he was brought into the fold as well.
After struggling to get on the board in his first few regular season games on Broadway, St. Louis turned his small stature into a big presence once again in the playoffs, coming through for the Rangers at a time when they need him most.
St. Louis proved once again that come playoff time, when the game is on the line, he is and will be a player the Rangers can turn to to make things happen.
Marty provided two assists in last night’s win, earning him second star honors in front of the Garden Faithful, but it was how he notched those two points that counted.
First, he assisted on Richards game winner in the first 2 minutes of the 4 minute double-minor given to Akeson for high-sticking. St. Louis found himself in good position in the slot and just threw the puck towards the net, with Richards eventually getting the rebound and burying it to put the Rangers up.
It was classic Martin St. Louis, with him originally positioned on the right side half-wall on the overload powerplay, yet used his speed and finesse to buzz all over the ice before finding himself in perfect position in front of the net to set up a chance.
Then under a minute later, he began the tic-tac-toe play by feeding the puck up to Richards from the faceoff dot, who then proceeded to fake a shot and find Stepan back door for the beautiful goal. St. Louis’ vision allowed him to take the extra second and make the smart play instead of rushing and forcing a pass into the slot that was heavily defended by the Flyers at the time.
That split second decision made the difference, and helped put the Rangers up by two.
St. Louis has always been one of those right place at the right time kind of players, but what makes him remarkable is that he gets himself there.
Whenever a big moment happens, it seems to happen with Martin St. Louis right in the mix, and last night for New York he reminded us all of that.
King Henrik gets a different perspective
It’s hard to imagine a New York Rangers victory without Henrik Lundqvist being the top story of the night.
Normally, when the Rangers win it is due, in large part, to #30 standing solid in between the pipes.
However, last night was different and for Lundqvist, it was a welcome sight. Usually the story goes – if the Rangers are to win, they will need Henrik Lundqvist to be on his A game.
It has been a story that’s been used time and time again. However, last night, Lundqvist’s play took a back seat to the play of the team in front of him, a complete 180 of what has become the norm for the organization for the last decade.
After letting up the first goal of the game on the Flyers first shot by former Islander, Andrew MacDonald, Lundqvist was solid the rest of the way. Making 14 saves on the night, he did just enough to keep Philly off the board during their few surges here and there; but with the defense playing exceptional in front of him, he didn’t need to steal the show as he usually does.
This is not to say that he wasn’t a big part of the Rangers win, as he still made some key saves that caused the crowd to erupt in chants of “HEN-RIK” on more than one occasion. However, the team played so well in front of him, his performance wasn’t the main focus.
When a Rangers team can make Henrik Lundqvist a secondary story during one of their games, then you know the team has done something incredible.
One Down, 15 to go
This was by far one of the most complete team performances that I have seen from a New York Rangers team in the playoffs in quite some time.
Not only on the offense were the Blueshirts relentless on the forecheck, but on defense they held the Flyers top players off the board, and made superstar captain, Claude Giroux disappear without even a single shot recorded last night.
The players were into it, the fans were into it, and if the Rangers can stick to their game plan and execute in the way they did during Game One last night, it could be a very fun spring in Manhattan.
However, that was only one step on a long journey to get to where they want to go – and if they hope to still be standing in June, they will need their top guys to continue their contributions in the marathon we call the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Check out the video below for highlights from last night’s Rangers win: