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2014 NHL Playoffs: Rangers move on after squeezing by Flyers in Game 7

By Brian Cazeneuve

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers are alive and still kicking thanks to a player who has often been one of their healthy scratches. Against a club that was bigger and grittier, Daniel Carcillo, a former Flyer with Flyer-like snarl, helped New York eliminate Philadelphia, 2-1, in a seventh game that was not for the weak-kneed. Carcillo, the game’s unlikely first star, gave the Rangers just enough pugnacity that they often lack, and for the second time in the series scored a key goal. That, along with New York’s other virtues -- puck-moving defense and superior goaltending -- prevailed in a series that was a toss-up until the final whistle.

“Huge,” Ranger forward Brad Richards said of Carcillo’s contribution. “In a series like this where one bounce can make it go either way, a guy like that can be the difference-maker. He was.”

In fact, the difference was a dominant second period in which New York scored the first two goals of the game on similar backdoor plays that exposed a weak Flyers defense. Once Philadelphia cut the margin to 2-1 and began to play with greater urgency, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist closed the door, turning back 26 of 27 shots. Lundqvist did not need to be spectacular, because the Flyers didn’t challenge him enough to force him into game-saving heroics, but he made stops from various angles with the calm of a former Vezina Trophy winner.

Here are some salient points from the game and what they mean for New York’s next series and Philadelphia’s next season:

Recap | Box Score

• After a scoreless first period, Philadelphia twice goofed up its defensive coverage, allowing New York to pot the pair of decisive goals. On Carcillo’s tally that put New York ahead, 1-0, Mats Zuccarello slid a long pass from the corner that eluded a sleepy Flyer defense before finding Carcillo alone in front of the net. Both Andrew MacDonald and Braden Coburn had a chance to cut off the pass, bump Carcillo or check his stick. They whiffed. To be fair, Flyer forward Sean Couturier was nearby, too, and he didn’t bother the pass either.

•  New York burned Philadelphia again with a pass from the right corner for its second goal at 11:36 of the second period. After a Flyers giveaway, New York’s Anton Stralman kept the puck in at the right point and moved it down towards the right corner. Forward Derick Brassard collected it in the corner and sent a pass that two Flyers again could not intercept. This time Coburn and Erik Gustafsson failed to take it or a player, leaving the pass in the slot for another backdoor conversion. Benoit Pouliot jumped into the slot, took the pass and beat Steve Mason, just as Flyer Zac Rinaldo was diving back to the ice (in vain) to mark Pouliot. “In the second period, they took it to us,” said Mason, who turned back 31 shots. “We had trouble breaking out of our own zone. They had odd-man rushes and we seemed to be spinning our legs.”

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•  Here is one of the issues the Flyers faced against New York that they must address during the offseason: their defense doesn’t give them enough at either end. It doesn’t move the puck as well as, say, the Rangers, and it doesn’t consistently take care of Philly's own end. The Flyers expected more this season from Coburn and Luke Schenn. Going forward, if they can’t land the Shea Weber they tried to get before this season, they need a little more speed back there.

• Carcillo had a limited role for New York during most of the regular season, putting up three points, all goals, in 31 games, and often toiling on the fourth line while dropping the gloves when needed. For his career, he has 1,179 penalty minutes in 390 games, and had appeared in just two previous games in this series. But on Wednesday night, he saw significant time on one of New York’s top lines, with Richards and speedy winger Zuccarello. Carcillo’s willingness to bump and grind was just the element that New York lacked in the sixth game, when Philadelphia’s big players, especially power-forward Wayne Simmonds, simply ran over the smaller Rangers with impunity. “In a Game 7 like this, I would rather go with experience,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, “and [Carcillo] had been in these situations before.”

This is nothing new for Carcillo. He was a bench player for the Blackhawks during their championship run last year and served the Flyers in the same capacity when they went to the finals four years ago. Last season, he totaled three points in 23 regular-season games and a single assist in four playoff contests. Asked what it took to get him the goal in Game 7 vs. the Flyers, Carcillo deadpanned, “Backhand blind spin-o-rama between two guys’ legs right on my stick. I didn’t do much.”

• Carcillo may not be as valuable, and may not play much, against the speedy Penguins in the next round. But he also scored a big goal in the Rangers’ road win in Game 3 vs. the Flyers and his services in the corners and around scrums were very noticeable against Philadelphia and could be again if, for example, New York should eventually meet physical Boston in the Eastern finals.

• Including regular-season contests, the home teams in these meetings between New York and Philly have won nine of 11 games. Why? Are the crowds that raucous? Is the visiting locker room infused with sleeping powder? No way. This very corporate Garden crowd is a far tamer, less hockey-savvy version of the group that used to attend these tilts. Actually, the advantage of having the last change means a lot, especially to Philadelphia. The Flyers paid extra attention to keeping their captain Claude Giroux away from Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonaugh, New York’s mobile defense pair that frustrated the Flyers captain partly by being physical with him, cutting off his lanes and getting sticks in front of his passes and shots.

• Giroux has very fast feet, but for a sniper, he doesn’t have the fast hands of, say, the Kings' Jeff Carter. He is very skilled at leaning into defensemen and pushing off, getting just the right leverage he needs to turn a physical blueliner inside-out, but New York’s top pair doesn’t shut people down by being overly intimidating. The fast-moving defensemen are exactly the types of impediments that bother Giroux. In the past, both Craig Berube, the current Flyers coach, and his predecessor Peter Laviolette haven’t really sweated the matchup issue, figuring that if they wanted their best forward on the ice, he has to be able to deal with whatever the other team throws at him. But especially in Game 7, Berube was moving Giroux on and off the ice -- more than usual -- early in the game to keep him free of the Rangers' top pair, as New York had the last change. In the first period, when New York had just one power play, Giroux saw the ice for a total of seven shifts and 5:29 of ice time. Matt Read, one of Philadelphia’s better defensive forwards, was out for ten shifts and 7:25. In the second period, Giroux put himself in deadly shooting position with four minutes to play and Lundqvist scrambling, but he shot the puck over the net from 12 feet away. Only in the third period did Berube throw caution to the wind and double-shift his captain. By game’s end, Giroux led all Flyers, including their defensemen, with 23:16 of ice time, yet he did not record a point.

• Rangers power forward Rick Nash did not score in the series and has just one goal in his last 13 contests overall. He did record a team-high five shots and had some strong puck-possession shifts that kept the Flyers in their zone while eating up valuable minutes, but his finish isn’t what it used to be. Nash doesn’t turn 30 until June, but he already has 336 NHL career goals. New York will need his production against Pittsburg, because you know Evgeni Malkin and Nash’s Canadian Olympic teammates Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz will get theirs.

• The Rangers are 7-5 in seventh games of playoff series, and six of six at Madison Square Garden. No other NHL team is unbeaten in deciding home playoff games with that many wins. Brad Richards is 6-0 in seventh games, including the one that propelled the Tampa Bay Lightning, his former team, to the Stanley Cup in 2004.