By Matt Calamia
In the days and practices leading up to Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers stressed that special teams would be a key factor in the series, as well as the importance of staying disciplined against a dangerous power play.
They did both, scoring two power play goals on the same four-minute double-minor in the third period to break a 1-1 tie and giving the Flyers just one power play the entire game.
“It’s going to be big for the remainder of the series,” said Derek Stepan, who scored the Rangers’ third goal just 47 seconds after Brad Richards gave the Rangers the lead at 8:22 of the third period, with both goals coming on a double-minor assessed to Jason Akeson for high-sticking. “When it comes playoff time, the most important part of the game is to make sure you manage the momentum swings. If you get a chance to get a power play or a penalty kill, you get momentum from that.”
The Blueshirts went 2-for-6 on the power play and killed off the only power play they gave Philadelphia in the third period when Ryan McDonagh was called for high-sticking. The kill was crucial, as the game was still tied early in the third period.
“We’ve talked about [being disciplined],” McDonagh said. “It’s going to continue here. It’s a long series. We’ve got to maintain our discipline throughout the game. It’s a good start here. We should feel good about ourselves.”
“We were smart. Stayed out of the penalty box, which was key,” Marc Staal said. “It’s playoff hockey. Those power plays and penalties can often be the difference, and it was tonight. Special teams is huge. You have to try and stay out of the box as best as you can.”
Throughout the regular season, the Rangers did a good job of limiting chances for the opposition’s power play. In 82 games, the Rangers took the second-fewest penalties of any team with 232, trailing just San Jose’s 219. In contrast, Philadelphia took the second-most penalties in the NHL with 316.
“We’ve been a disciplined team all year long,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “That shouldn’t surprise anyone. We played whistle to whistle. We played a smart, hard game and it’s been one of our strengths all year long and that’s not going to change now.”