In the first game between the Flyers and Rangers since a gloved punch from Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds left defenseman Ryan McDonagh with a concussion — a blow that sparked a war of words — the Blueshirts got some payback Sunday night: a 3-1 win at the Garden.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 21 shots for his fifth straight win and Derek Stepan scored twice in a 3:20 span in the third period.
McDonagh, the Rangers’ captain, remains sidelined, but Simmonds, who was ejected from the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout victory on Feb. 6 in Philadelphia, was the main storyline on Valentine’s Day, when there was little love lost between the teams.
Asked about retribution last Tuesday, Rangers forward Tanner Glass said, “It’s coming,” and the Blueshirts immediately sent a message.
Dylan McIlrath and Simmonds, who chatted briefly during warm-ups, dropped the gloves at the 39-second mark, and Glass and Ryan White squared off 20 seconds later.
Said McIlrath, “I wanted to show everyone I was sticking up for Mac. I’m glad I got it out of the way early. In the box, he told me he didn’t mean to hurt Mac, but that’s hockey.” He added, “Glasser followed it up with another great scrap. I think it was important to get a good start, and that definitely helped it.”
Stepan said of McIlrath and Glass: “Those two guys have an extremely tough job. They should get a lot of credit tonight. Our team really responded well after that.”
The hostilities and chirping between the benches continued, with 36 minutes in penalties coming in the period. It continued with Mats Zuccarello and Chris Vandevelde exchanging nasty cross-checks at 4:14. On the ensuing four-on-four, Derick Brassard gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 5:08 with his 19th goal, taking a pass from Keith Yandle and bursting past Mark Streit down the left side and around the net for a wraparound that goalie Steve Mason thought he had trapped at the right post.
The Flyers had a chance to tie it after Zuccarello was called for a high-sticking double-minor, drawing a bit of blood on Shayne Gostisbehere. But Lundqvist and the penalty kill kept the Flyers at bay for four minutes.
The Rangers extended the lead at 10:34 of the third period on a no-look backhand pass from Zuccarello to Stepan, alone to the left of the net. It was the 100th goal of Stepan’s career, and he followed it up with another, on a short pass from Zuccarello, in almost the same spot in the lower left circle on a power play. “I don’t know if there’s another guy in the room with a feel for the game like he has,’’ Stepan said. “He’s a special player.”
Stepan has four goals and 16 points in his last 15 games against Philadelphia.
Lundqvist, who is 11-3-1 in his last 15 games, finished the first 40 minutes having allowed only one goal in the past eight periods. He lost his shutout with 9.7 seconds left when Brayden Schenn scored on a six-on-four.
“It helps when the guys are blocking shots and getting to rebounds so I can focus on the puck,’’ said Lundqvist, who has not given up any even-strength goals in the last three games. “They’re not giving up a lot of great chances.”
The Rangers, who wore their white road uniforms, improved their record to 32-18-6 (70 points) with 26 games left. They are 21-5-3 at home and have won 11 of the last 12 against the Flyers at the Garden.
It was the final game of the five-game season series against the Flyers, who are 24-21-10 (58 points). The Rangers went 3-1-1 in the season series. Three were decided in shootouts, but this one was exciting in a different way.
“You could feel the building, it was electric for the first few minutes,’’ Marc Staal said. “We hadn’t had one of those in a while. It made for an intense night.”