For the second time in three days, the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New York Rangers in the heat of a Metropolitan Division playoff race.
Three power-play goals on five opportunities along with multi-point nights from Travis Konecny, Jakub Voracek, and the newest Flyer, Derek Grant, paced Philadelphia to a 5-3 victory over New York at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon to open up a nine-point lead on the surging Blueshirts in the standings.
The second-place Flyers, now with 83 points, are a point out of first in the division while the Rangers squandered an opportunity to move into a wild-card spot with a win.
Sunday’s affair featured an underwhelming return to the crease for Rangers’ legend, Henrik Lundqvist, who made his first start since Feb. 3 and his first appearance since Feb. 11.
Behind a shaky Rangers defense, he stopped 21 of 26 shots.
He was greeted rudely by the Flyers almost immediately when Matt Niskanen put the visitors up on the power play just 1:52 into the game following a Ryan Lindgren hooking penalty just 23 seconds after the opening face-off.
A shot from the point by Travis Sanheim squirted through Lundqvist where Nicolas Aube-Kubel hit the post. The ensuing deflection, however, came right to a wide-open Niskanen, who poked it home.
A hooking penalty committed by Scott Laughton allowed the Rangers a way to establish themselves after Philadelphia’s opener as their offense proceeded to apply pressure on the young Flyers’ netminder. But the 21-year-old Hart was up to the early challenge, stopping three New York power-play opportunities before a Mika Zibanejad breakaway attempt.
He stopped 23 of 26 shots on the day.
The Rangers’ momentum was quickly snuffed out when Ryan Strome went off for a hook 10:46 into the first. Thirty-three seconds later, Sean Couturier doubled the Flyers’ lead with another simple tap-in behind a stock New York defense.
Tic-tac-toe passing found Voracek on the goal line to the left of Lundqvist. His tough-angled shot was kicked away by the goalie’s pad, but right to Couturier.
A third tally of the first period came with 2:07 remaining on special teams again. This time, however, it was a short-handed goal as Raffl was sprung on a breakaway by a strong clear from Grant — who was acquired at the trade deadline last week.
In alone on Lundqvist, Raffl deked to his backhand and slotted his chance above Lundqvist’s glove.
Philadelphia’s onslaught didn’t stop after the break, either.
Just 1:23 into the second period, Grant picked up his second point of the game and his first goal as a Flyer thanks to another Rangers’ defensive breakdown.
With Adam Fox caught in the Flyers’ zone on a pinch, Grant was able to bundle down the left wing through the Rangers defense to beat Lundqvist with another backhanded attempt from close range.
The Rangers finally got on the board via the power play 12:34 into the second when he tipped in a beauty of a pass from Artemi Panarin over Hart.
His 31st goal of the season set a new-career high just one game after becoming the first Rangers since Jaromir Jagr in 2006-07 to score 30-plus goals in consecutive seasons.
Panarin’s assist extended his personal point streak to 13-straight games, also a new career-high.
But the Flyers took a hold of things once again thanks to another penalty by Strome, who slashed Robert Hagg to give Philadelphia a late power play.
It took all of five seconds for them to convert on the man advantage as a pass from the right-wing by Voracek found Konecny to the left of Lundqvist. Once again, it was an easy tap-in past the struggling goaltender.
Pavel Buchnevich pulled the Rangers within three 5:33 into the third with a redirection on the power play.
Zibanejad picked up his second of the day seven minutes later when Panarin toed the blue line to find the center alone in front of Hart’s goal. A nifty deke to the backhand brought the Rangers to within two, but it was as close as their final push would come to nabbing a point.