Having beaten the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 Thursday night in the opener of the first-round best-of-seven Metropolitan Division Semifinal series, the Rangers look to hold serve on home ice on Easter Sunday when they host the Flyers in a Game Two matinee at Madison Square Garden. Thursday's win now gives New York a nine-game winning streak on home ice against the Flyers, dating back to February of 2011. One would think that this Game Two would be critical then for both teams--the Rangers trying to show that they can't lose to Philly at The Garden, while the Flyers looking to prove they indeed can win in the Rangers building.
Of course what's most important about Game Two is that the Rangers could grab a 2-0 series lead with a victory, heading into Game Three Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center where they could take a stranglehold in the series. Or the Flyers could gain a split at MSG, even the series 1-1, cut it to a best-of-five, and take over home ice advantage heading back to Philly where the Flyers won both of their games with the Rangers during the regular season.
So, yes, Game Two is a big one Sunday afternoon. And Game Twos have not been kind to the Rangers in recent memory. New York lost both of its Game Twos last spring (to the Capitals and Bruins), all three in 2012 (all on home ice to the Senators, Capitals, and Devils), and have dropped six in a row since last winning a Game Two back in 2009 against the Caps.
The Rangers, though, are coming off a fairly dominating game in the series opener against the Flyers. New York controlled the puck--and most of the game action--all night long Thursday, and will try and mimic much of what they did well once again in Game Two. However the Blueshirts also realize the Flyers will come out "hungrier"--to use Brian Boyle's word--on Sunday and will need to step up their level of play, as well.
Game One featured goals from three of the four Rangers lines, continuing to get production from top to bottom, part of what fueled the team's second half success this season. The fourth line may not have scored a goal Thursday, but it was extremely effective in generating energy and scoring chances, while also helping to shut down Philly's top line centered by Claude Giroux. While much of the credit for stifling Giroux (no shots) goes to the play of defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, much credit also goes to the lines centered by Derek Stepan and Dominic Moore, that switched off up front against Giroux's line all night long.
Brad Richards produced three points Thursday, Marty St. Louis had two, Rick Nash had an assist, and both Stepan and Carl Hagelin added goals. That is production from the top end of the lineup, and certainly a good starting point for the Blueshirts. The power play was 2-for-6 and won the game by converting twice during a double minor assessed to Philly rookie Jason Akeson in the third period. The Rangers were also very well disciplined, facing only one power play and killing it off early in the third period of what was then still a 1-1 game.
No lineup changes are expected for the Rangers, while Flyers head coach Craig Berube said he was still considering a move or two. Henrik Lundqvist and Ray Emery again will be the goaltenders after the Flyers No. 1 netminder, Steve Mason, was declared out of Game Two with an unspecified injury despite practicing on Saturday. Rookie Cal Heeter will again back up Emery, who was solid in making 32 saves in Game One, despite allowing four goals. Lundqvist picked up his 31st career post-season win Thursday, stopping 14 of 15 shots. Needless to say, he expects to see a lot more rubber thrown at him in Game Two on Sunday.
The Flyers will be looking to generate much more offensive zone time in Game Two, and will need more production from Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, and Jakub Voracek--the team's top forwards. Those four combined for just two shots on goal on Thursday. The team's most successful forwards were complementary players like Akeson, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Courturier.
The Rangers speed helped win Game One. The Flyers are hoping their size and physicality is the equalizer in Game Two.