Flyers 3, Rangers 2, OT
Then, it happened. A puck deflected off the stick of an opponent and found its way into the New York Rangers’ net, starting a riveting comeback that turned a sure-fire loss into a 3-2 overtime victory Monday night.
“I think the luck was on our side,” said Flyers forward Petr Nedved, who assisted on Joni Pitkanen’s second goal of the game at 1:28 of overtime. “That’s the way it is sometimes if you work hard for 60 minutes and overtime.”
Philadelphia (31-13-8) tied it on goals by Pitkanen and Mike Richards in the final 9:42 of regulation to force overtime. That’s when the Flyers’ defenseman, playing for just third time in 27 games because of an abdominal injury, struck again.
Pitkanen skated into the left circle and ripped a shot over Henrik Lundqvist’s glove to snap Philadelphia’s two-game losing streak and hand the Rangers their second loss in six games.
“It’s always good when you get those goals from guys like that, so we’ll take those two points and get out of here,” said Nedved, a former New York forward.
Forsberg is out with a groin injury, and Philadelphia’s lead that was once nine points was nearly gone. The Flyers went 8-2-1 on their 11-game trip, the longest in team history, but were 2-3-2 since.
The Rangers blew a chance to cut Philadelphia’s lead in the Atlantic Division to one point, and instead fell four points behind.
“Guys going out all the time, we needed to suck it up,” Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said.
“It was a tough loss. We had the lead, but things like this happen every once in a while,” said Lundqvist, who finished with 37 saves. “Of course I’m very disappointed.”
Pitkanen got things started for Philadelphia when he fired a shot off the outstretched skate of New York forward Steve Rucchin. Richards tied it with 1:28 left in regulation by making a behind-the-back tip in of Freddy Meyer’s drive from the blue line.
“I saw it coming, I just tried to get my stick on it,” Richards said. “I looked over my shoulder and I saw it just slowly going in. I just kept waiting and waiting.”
Robert Esche became the unlikely winner by making 28 saves. Philadelphia is 2-1 against New York this season with both wins coming in overtime at Madison Square Garden.
Jagr gave the Rangers the lead in the second period and Rucinsky extended it early in the third.
“That’s not what we wanted to happen but we said we’ve got to keep going the same and things will happen. And they did happen,” Nedved said.
Pitkanen’s first goal ended Philadelphia’s scoreless streak at 136 minutes, 57 seconds over three games. Lundqvist, in his first start against the Flyers, fell to 7-0-4 against Atlantic Division foes.
“We played 50 minutes with everything under control,” Jagr said. “We just have to learn how to finish the last 10.”
The teams each had 13 shots in the first and the Flyers held a 12-8 advantage during the middle period, they just couldn’t solve Lundqvist.
Lundqvist made two good stops during one rush in the midst of a Philadelphia power play. Mike Rathje let a shot fly from the left circle, but Lundqvist squared up nicely and covered the puck after denying a rebound shot. On the same second-period advantage, Pitkanen got to a rebound of Simon Gagne’s drive and had his follow knocked away by Lundqvist’s quick glove.
After Lundqvist used his left leg to kick aside Michal Handzus’ shot, Jagr gave his goalie an appreciative pat on the helmet once play had stopped.
Both clubs used solid defense to keep the game tight. It was quite a contrast to each team’s previous games Saturday.
New York used 51 shots—while holding Pittsburgh to 14—to beat the Penguins 7-1. At the same time in Philadelphia, the Flyers were routed 6-0 by defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.
Esche, one of the United States’ three Olympic goalies, had his second strong game in three outings after sitting out 17 with a groin injury that first flared up earlier in the season. He made 32 saves in a win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 21 but allowed five goals on 15 Montreal shots four days later.