NEW YORK (AP)—After scratching and clawing for nearly three weeks to get back into the playoff hunt, the New York Rangers’ postseason hopes were nearly gone in 40 seconds.
Mike Richards(notes) turned defenseman Marc Staal’s(notes) stunning turnover into an opening-minute goal that silenced Madison Square Garden and throttled the crowd that had created a playoff-like atmosphere.
But the Rangers shook off the early blow, grabbed the lead and hung on for a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night.
The Rangers staved off elimination and set up a one-game season on Sunday when these teams meet again in Philadelphia with the playoffs squarely on the line. The winner is assured of a postseason spot. If the game ends in regulation, the loser is out.
“I’m just glad we gave ourselves another day,” said captain Chris Drury(notes), who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We wanted another chance and we battled pretty hard the last couple of weeks to get to Game 82.”
The Rangers and Flyers, currently in the last playoff spot in the East, are tied with 86 points. Philadelphia owns the tiebreaker. The clubs are in a four-team fight with Boston and Montreal for the final three places in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Boston and Montreal both have 87 points.
Jody Shelley(notes) and Brandon Dubinsky(notes) had the other goals for the Rangers, who have surged into contention with a 7-1-1 spurt that followed a tough 2-1 loss at Boston on March 21 that seemed to doom their season.
“Two weeks ago, three weeks ago, I think everybody didn’t believe in us,” Gaborik said, “but here we are with one game left. Our destiny is in our own hands.”
Philadelphia is in a 4-7-1 swoon that opened the door for the Rangers’ standings rally.
“We’re very confident,” Richards said. “We’ve been a great home team all year. We’ll have to be on Sunday.”
Gaborik converted Chris Pronger’s(notes) turnover in the Philadelphia zone into a drive that hit Flyers defenseman Matt Carle(notes) and caromed past goalie Brian Boucher(notes) to give the Rangers a 4-3 edge with 3:06 left in the second.
“It’s just like a playoff game—Game 7 pretty much,” said the relieved Staal.
The desperate Rangers quickly shook off Richards’ goal and dominated the rest of the period. Not only were they down 1-0, they also had to kill off a Philadelphia power play at 59 seconds.
New York got even when Drury scored on the first half of Daniel Carcillo’s(notes) double high-sticking penalty. Erik Christensen(notes), who had two assists, made a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Drury, who was unmarked at the left post for a slam-dunk shot at 7:22 that tied it 1-1.
The Rangers kept the pressure on Boucher and kept the Flyers at bay. New York’s unexpectedly productive new fourth line clicked to give the team its first lead.
The trio of enforcer Shelley, Brandon Prust(notes) and Artem Anisimov(notes)—a line created eight games earlier—has combined for 16 points since coach John Tortorella put them together. Anisimov won a faceoff from Richards, knocking the stick out of the hands of the Flyers captain, and nudged the puck forward. Prust used his backhand to flick the puck to Shelley, who got free in front and scored at 10:13 for his first goal since March 28, 2009—62 games earlier.
New York’s defense told the rest of the story in the first. Philadelphia, outshot 12-4 in the frame, went more than 17 minutes without a shot between Richard’s goal and Arron Asham’s(notes) drive with 2:02 left in the period.
“I can’t explain it,” Flyers forward Danny Briere(notes) said. “I expected us to be ready and to have a way better first period. It’s too late now, we can’t change anything. The next game, it doesn’t get any better than this in the regular season. It’s already the playoffs.”
The Flyers showed more jump early in the second, but Gaborik powered the Rangers’ offense as he has done all season and helped New York go ahead 3-1.
Gaborik streaked up the right side, blew past defenseman Matt Carle, and left the puck at the right post to Dubinsky, who easily followed up with his career-best 20th goal.
“The win is the most important thing,” Dubinsky said. “I’ll think about that after the season ends. Right now it’s about one game and winning one game.
“We haven’t accomplished anything until we find ourselves Sunday night in the top eight.”
Philadelphia get closer 1:28 later when Simon Gagne(notes) found Briere open for a one-timer for his 26th goal. The Flyers tied it at 3 with 5:19 left in the second when a rebound of Richards’ shot bounced in off defenseman Michal Rozsival’s(notes) leg.
NOTES: Jeff Carter(notes), who leads the Flyers with 33 goals, returned after missing eight games due to a broken left foot. … Gaborik, who has a career-high 86 points, also scored 42 goals for Minnesota in the 2007-08 season. … Richards has three goals in two games. … Rangers RW Ryan Callahan(notes), who recently missed four games, reinjured his left knee in the second period during a hit on Pronger and didn’t return. He will be examined by a doctor Saturday morning.