NHL takeaways: Two rivals give us playoffs heaven – three Game 7s
With the NHL spotlight all to themselves on Tuesday night, the Flyers and Rangers didn’t disappoint. And when the dust had settled and the fists stopped flying, the Flyers had a new playoff hero and we had a dream Wednesday set: Three Game 7s.
Thanks to Philadelphia‘s 5-2 victory at home on Tuesday, the first round will now go out with quite a bang Wednesday when New York hosts Philadelphia, Colorado hosts Minnesota and then San Jose hosts Los Angeles.
Four big markets, a pair of hockey hotbeds and for all six teams, some very big stakes. As for Tuesday …
PLAY OF THE DAY
Coburn’s long-distance connection: Just as Philadelphia defenseman Erik Gustafsson’s high-sticking penalty was expiring with less than six minutes left in the second period, fellow defenseman Braydon Coburn lofted a pass out of the Flyers zone that Gustafsson tracked down for a breakaway then beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to open a 3-0 lead and effectively end the game.
1. Wayne Simmonds, RW, Philadelphia: Simmonds set up shop in the high-percentage scoring areas and posted his first career playoff hat trick.
2. Steve Mason, G, Philadelphia: Mason bounced back from a mediocre Game 5 with 34 saves. Can he carry that success to Madison Square Garden where Philadelphia has lost 10 of its last 11 games?
3. Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia: A goal and two assists for the best offensive player in this series. Giroux has six points (two goals) in six playoff games.
Philadelphia 5, New York Rangers 2
Series: Tied 3-3
Key stat: The Rangers have lost the last 12 playoff games they entered with a lead in the series.
Key player: Wayne Simmonds, RW, Philadelphia: His hat trick was the first for a Flyer since Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier each had one in Game 2 of a 2012 first-round series vs. Pittsburgh.
What we learned: From the day this series started, a Game 7 seemed pre-ordained. Neither team has won two in a row, both teams are 2-1 at home, and the Rangers hold a slim 17-15 lead in goals. Philadelphia played again without defenseman Nicklas Grossmann who left Game 4 early and will miss 8-10 weeks after undergoing ankle surgery, but it didn’t matter. Steve Mason kept them in it early when the Rangers made a big push and Simmonds turned out the lights by the time the second period had ended with his third goal of the night. There was more bad blood when Rangers enforcer Derek Dorsett got a stick into the left skate of Philadelphia’s Mark Streit and tripped him before ramming him into the end boards as both fell. But it’s doubtful there will be time for reprisals in a winner-take-all game that will also be the back end of back-to-back affairs thanks to some quirky scheduling from the NHL. New York is 5-0 all-time in Game 7s at Madison Square Garden, but the Flyers won the only previous Game 7 between these teams 40 years ago in the conference finals that were then called the semifinals. Of particular concern for the Rangers should be their power play, which has failed to score on its last 20 chances.
Next game: Wednesday at New York, 7 p.m. EST
The Flyers faithful have waited a long time for a goalie to rescue them. Since Bernie Parent led them to back-to-back Stanley Cups in the mid-1970s, the Flyers have suffered between the pipes. Budding star Pelle Lindbergh died in an auto accident in 1985. Ron Hextall could never get the Flyers past the dynastic Edmonton Oilers and his successors have been a series of disasters. This season’s club certainly doesn’t have the talent of past clubs such as the 2010 version that fell to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, and nobody considers the Flyers a Cup contender outside of Philadelphia. But Mason has sparked hope with his play in the last four games, second in the playoffs with a .939 save percentage and third in goals against average (1.95). Is he the answer to Philadelphia’s prayers or just another pipe dream?