The opportunity--and that is the word most Rangers players, as well as their head coach Alain Vigneault, termed it Sunday and Monday--is there for the New York Rangers. A victory Tuesday night on the road at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and they will eliminate the Flyers from post-season play and advance to the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. A loss to the Flyers in Game Six would not be catastrophic since the Rangers own a three-games-to-two series lead and would still have home-ice advantage with Game Seven to be played at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, but it would be a major wasted opportunity, and one that the Rangers want desperately to cash in on.
As Brad Richards pointed out following practice on Monday in New York, the Rangers do not want to risk their playoff fate on a bad bounce, a missed call from the officials, or some other fluke as can happen in any Game Seven, no matter how well you might play.
So the Rangers passionately want to end their series with the Flyers in six games now that they have moved one win away from advancing following Sunday's 4-2 triumph at The Garden in Game Five. Of course the Flyers, who have alternated losses with wins throughout this series, desperate want to keep their season alive, and goaltender Steve Mason fairly said they would when asked about following that Game Five defeat.
The two teams split the two games played at Wells Fargo in this series. The Rangers snagged a 4-1 victory in Game Three, with the Flyers coming back in Mason's first start of the series with a 2-1 win in Game Four. The Rangers enter confident, having won a franchise-record 25 road games this season, and having played two strong games in Philly in this series already; while the Flyers are very confident on home ice, buoyed by their raucous crowd, as well as having won four of their last six games on home ice against the Rangers dating back to last season.
Small details could be the difference on Tuesday night because very little has separated these two teams through five games. While the Rangers believe they have controlled more of the flow and play over five games, the bottom line as Henrik Lundqvist pointed out Monday is that the series is still only 3-2 in favor of New York. Even in Game Five Sunday, the Rangers raced out to a commanding 3-0 lead, but the Flyers were able to pull within a goal with 89 seconds remaining, putting a scare in the Blueshirts before Brian Boyle iced the win with an empty-net goal.
The Rangers have outscored the Flyers 15-10 through five games, and they have held Philly to the fewest shots on goal of any team in the 2014 playoffs, so far. While Lundqvist has been solid, the Rangers have played some terrific team defense against the Flyers. The Rangers have also imposed their will much of the series, playing more of the fast-paced north-south style Vigneault prefers. Though the Rangers have also done well playing on the Flyers terms when needed, as was evidenced in Game Five where the Rangers initiated much of the physical play between the whistles and did not back down when challenged physically.
One of the not-so-small details that could swing Game Five in either teams favor is special teams. The Rangers were terrific killing off four straight Flyer power plays Sunday, but Philly is still 4-for-16 in the series, and they did score once on the power play in Game Five. The Rangers are just 3-for-23 on the man advantage in this series, and they are 0-for-8 in two games at the Wells Fargo Center. Since starting the series with two goals on their first three attempts, the Rangers are just one for their last 20 power play opportunities.
Better discipline is also in order for the Blueshirts Tuesday after they were shorthanded five times in Game Five, including three minors taken by Carl Hagelin. That is not a recipe for success in Game Six.
Perhaps one of the most important details for the Rangers will be to continue receiving quality shifts and production from all four lines. Throughout much of this series, and most definitely in Game Five, all four of the Ranger line combinations have rolled with success. While the Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello line has struggled the most offensively, all three of those forwards have played hard-nosed hockey, generated chances, and been responsible defensively. The fourth line has played a huge role in this series, outplaying pretty much any Flyers line combination they have faced. Dominic Moore has goals in back to back games, and both he and Boyle have three points in the series, while playing aggressive, tenacious hockey.
Up front Marty St. Louis has set the tone thoughout the series, leading the team with six points (2-4-6), and having notched points in four of five games. Richards has five points (2-3-5) and Rick Nash four (0-4-4), though he is still seeking his first goal.
No Flyer has more than three points so far in the series, though one of them--captain Claude Giroux--finally scored his first goal of the series late in Game Five. Perhaps he's about to get untracked, or perhaps that was just a singular moment in what has been a frustrating series for one of the league's top players.
Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann will miss his second straight game with a lower body injury. He was replaced in Game Five by veteran Hal Gill, who was burned on Moore's breakaway goal in the second period, and appeared more than a step slow all afternoon. 25 year old Erik Gustafsson could get the call instead of Gill in Game Six, though. He is far less experienced, but is a much more mobile skater which could be vital against the quick-skating Rangers. Gustafssen was 2-8-10 in 31 games this past season, and appeared in seven playoff games in 2012, recording a pair of points.