If you didn't watch the New York Rangers 5-3 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, you might think the Flyers were running low on energy after Sunday's emotionally-draining battle against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Especially if when you noticed the commanding 4-0 lead New York held after the first period.
It was the classic setup for more of the same type of recent Philadelphia early-game effort. After all, in addition to the sheer emotion of the clash with the Penguins, it was also an extremely physical tilt.
For a Flyers' team that had dropped all five decisions to the Rangers heading into the game, it was not the best of scenarios. A win could be a huge mental boost in case these teams end up meeting down the road in the postseason, and the issue of home ice advantage for the likely first round matchup with Pittsburgh were all hanging in the balance.
The club's play in the first several minutes after the opening faceoff was quite the opposite of the slow start they had experienced in recent outings. Philly came out with a continuation of the offensive pressure they had launched at Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pens for a good portion of the previous contest.
While the early shot totals heavily favored the home team, the goaltender who has been the Blueshirts great equalizer, Henrik Lundqvist, kept the Flyers at bay. As he has done so often throughout his career against Philly, he held the fort until his teammates could withstand the initial wave of attack and muster some offense of their own.
When a blown coverage in the defensive zone led to Ryan McDonagh being left all alone in the slot area and score the first goal at the 6:25 mark, it was just the opportunistic moment the Rangers were seeking. It provided an instantaneous momentum shift in favor of New York.
"First five minutes I thought we were good and then they scored that goal and it kind of fell apart," said right wing Wayne Simmonds.
With the Rangers employing John Tortorella's ferocious pressure on the puck, the Flyers still had golden opportunities. This one on the red-hot Simmonds -- who eventually potted his 28th of the season later in the second period to stretch his goal scoring streak to five consecutive games -- was absolute robbery with the glove hand just a little over two minutes after McDonagh's goal.
Lundqvist's lightning quick leather snatched away what could have been a game-tying goal for Simmonds, and squarely denied the shift in momentum Philadelphia had nearly commanded.
The Rangers scored a couple of minutes later to double their lead, then took full advantage of Flyers' penalties to score two power play goals late in the frame to take the 4-0 lead at the first intermission. Without Lundqvist's stellar play, there is no telling how the period would have played out.
That's just what "King Henrik" regularly does for his team, and with great frequency against the Orange-and-Black. He has been in net for all six wins over the Flyers this season, recording an amazing 1.83 goals-against average and .942 save percentage. His record against Philly is 8-0-0 dating back to a 7-0 shutout last March, and he has yielded just 13 goals in that span -- allowing the Flyers just 1.62 goals per game.
After the game, New York captain Ryan Callahan made note of Lundqvists's efforts, which were accentuated by the netminder's play while the Rangers attempted to kill off eight Flyers' power plays.
"We were in the box way too much," Callahan said of their unusual lack of discipline. "We gave them a chance to get back in the game. Hanky played great for us. He killed off a lot of those penalties by himself."
So how did the Flyers beat Lundqvist three times?
You hear people harping on it all the time, but it was the old-fashioned way. The common thread on each goal was lots of traffic in front of the New York cage, and just getting the puck to the net.
The results were forward Jakub Voracek's pinball goal at the edge of the crease, Simmonds' rebound goal, and Scott Hartnell's deflection of an Andreas Lilja shot (Lilja was originally credited with the goal that found its way through a mass of humanity and Lundqvist into the top corner over the goalie's glove hand side, but changed to Hartnell shortly after the game).
Voracek -- who did end up scoring a goal in the second period by banking a pass from the side of the net off Blueshirts' defenseman Marc Staal's skate and into the net -- said the Flyers have to find a way to solve Lundqvist.
"We had a lot of scoring chances," Voracek said of his club's effort. "He played well, as usual, against us. We have to find a way to get the pucks through him if we want to beat him in the playoffs."
The Rangers' defense was relentless during the Philadelphia power plays, often pressuring Claude Giroux with two penalty killers as a pass was en route to the club's leading scorer. It was obvious New York's game plan centered around not giving Giroux's offensive wizardry any time with which to operate, and it worked very well.
As a whole the Rangers' defensive game was not nearly as stifling as it had been in previous meetings this year, giving up 40 shots to the home team.
"He was unbelievable," said head coach John Tortorella after the game. "Not particularly in the first, throughout the game. When you go up 4-0, it's hard to try to keep yourself going and try to keep the momentum your way. Philly has done it all year long in getting down and then storming back."
A comeback was not in the cards on this day.
Sure, Marian Gaborik and Callahan have been huge factors, but Lundqvist's play has been the biggest reason for the Rangers' continuing mastery of the Flyers. If those two don't score, any one of Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Artem Anisimov, Mike Rupp, or one of the defenders seems to be able to pick up the slack.
In the meantime, there is always Lundqvist.
If it happens that the teams meet down the road in the upcoming postseason, you can bet the goaltender -- who set a personal career-best with his 39th win of the season last night -- will be seeing a lot of Hartnell and Simmonds around his porch.
The six-game sweep made all the difference in the standings for the two teams. If Philadelphia had even been able to forge a split, the teams would be flip-flopped in the Eastern Conference standings.
The same conference standings Lundqvist and the Rangers clinched last night.