There will not be a fifth consecutive playoff berth for the Rangers this year.
Despite a great stretch run in which the team amassed a 7-1-2 record, and despite a simply fantastic 46-save performance from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist on Sunday afternoon, the Rangers were defeated by the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in a game decided by the shootout at the Wachovia Center.
The most painful ending imaginable short-circuited the Rangers’ magical late season playoff push one point shy of a post-season berth.
“Both teams go through it so certainly we are not going to whine with how the situation is,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of having his team’s season end in a shootout. “In all honesty when it got down to the shootout I thought we had the advantage, with no disrespect to their shooters, but Henrik was terrific today. I thought we had a pretty good chance there, but it didn’t work out.”
Claude Giroux’s score in the third round of the shootout proved to be the game-winner when Flyers’ goalie Brian Boucher stuffed Olli Jokinen’s attempt that followed. Earlier Danny Briere had scored for Philly in the first round of the shootout and PA Parenteau had countered in Round Two for the Rangers.
“Obviously we were confident heading into the shootout,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “I mean shootouts are a toss-up, a shot an inch or two one way or the other changes everything. It’s tough for (Lundqvist) playing the way he did for us down the stretch. I feel badly for him.”
With the Flyers buzzing all game long, the Rangers finally let their precarious hold of a 1-0 lead slip away early in the third period. As Parenteau watched from the penalty box, Philly’s Matt Carle scored a power play goal off a scramble in front to tie the game at the 6:54 mark of the final period.
One minute later Lundqvist made an unbelievable save, lunging in a full-stretch to his right to rob a Simon Gagne one-timer, to make sure that the Flyers did not make it two goals on two shots after being denied on their first 35.
With eight minutes left to play, Lundqvist came through again for his team, making a pair of amazing right-pad saves in succession on James Van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux. And overtime was not guaranteed until Lundqvist hugged the post to thwart Daniel Carcillo’s eight-foot snap shot with 14.6 seconds left to play in regulation.
“I’m just so empty and disappointed right now,” Lundqvist said after the game. “We’ve been working really hard the last few weeks to try to get here. I don’t know what to say. It’s empty and tough.”
Lundqvist made two more saves in the five-minute overtime, though it was the Rangers with the best opportunity to win the game during the extra session. Marian Gaborik gained a step on the defense to break in on left wing, but his quick wrist shot was kicked out by the left skate of Boucher with a minute to go.
“To have it come down to a shootout in the last game of the year and then to get knocked off, it’s pretty disappointing,” explained team captain Chris Drury. “I just feel really bad for Henrik because that was one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play, and we didn’t get much in the way of offense for him. Then it comes down to a tough shootout loss.”
The Flyers pulled out all the stops to get their team and raucous crowd extra energized before the start of the game, even dusting off a vintage video circa the 1970’s of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” instead of Lauren Hart’s usual rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”.
And though Philly came bursting from the gates, it was the Rangers who scored the clutch first goal early in the first period. Jody Shelley, who put the Rangers up 2-1 on Friday night with his first goal of the season, gave the visitors a 1-0 lead at 3:27 with his second goal in as many games.
With his back to the net Shelley redirected Michal Rozsival’s right-point shot past Boucher as the Rangers’ fourth line delivered another huge shift in the club’s exciting late-season push.
“Our fourth line was our best line the last two games,” Lundqvist said of Shelley, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Prust. “They played great. But it’s tough to win two games against Philly when your fourth line is your best line.”
However the Rangers could not build any momentum off Shelley’s score, and instead the Flyers took over the first period with a voracious forecheck the key to their play. Fortunately for the Rangers, Lundqvist was simply sensational over the course of the opening 20 minutes, stopping all 18 shots he faced.
Perhaps his most important stop came 90 seconds after the Rangers grabbed their 1-0 advantage. Flyers’ captain Mike Richards stripped Rangers’ defenseman Anders Eriksson of the puck between the circles and broke in on Lundqvist, who made a huge blocker save to preserve the visitors’ lead.
The play was eerily reminiscent of one that took place 40 seconds into Friday’s contest when Richards stole the puck from Marc Staal in the same spot and scored the first goal of the game. This time Lundqvist made the bigger play.
Lundqvist caught a break at the 11-minute mark of the first period when Carle split the Rangers’ defense and fired a rocket off the crossbar. As the puck caromed off iron, it banked off the back of Lundqvist’s skate, but ended up sliding wide of the goal post.
“He was terrific, just terrific,” Tortorella said of Lundqvist, who played in his career-high 73rd game of the season on Sunday. “That’s a pretty good offensive team, and we knew they would come hard at us in the first period. But he was terrific for us.”
The Rangers and Flyers played a more even second period. After being outshot 18-4 in the opening period, the Rangers managed nine shots against Boucher in the middle stanza, though they also surrendered 12.
The fact that the game remained 1-0 in favor of the Rangers heading into the third period was due to Lundqvist, who denied all 30 shots through 40 minutes of play. Whether flashing his glove to snare a wicked Gagne slap shot two minutes into the middle period or sprawling spread-eagled on the ice to keep Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell at bay halfway through the period, Lundqvist was clearly at the top of his game.
“He was unbelievable,” Gaborik said of Lundqvist. “He kept us in there the whole game. They had so many chances and Hank was just unbelievable against them.”
Emotions also escalated on both sides during the second period. Aaron Voros and Ian Laperriere took part in a center-ice scrap, Shelley drove Carcillo to the bench with a crushing check, and Chris Pronger delivered a bomb on Shelley several minutes later.
“It was a game everybody was excited to play and it was exciting for everyone who watched,” explained Gaborik. “It’s just too bad with the outcome. It’s disappointing to end it like this. It’s tough to describe right now.”
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