Written By: Mike Ulatoski
One game after coach John Tortorella made Sean Avery a healthy scratch, Avery delivered a performance that should keep him in the New York Rangers lineup for the rest of the season.
Avery scored two goals and drew two penalties as the Rangers beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The win was the Rangers’ second straight, and moved them within one point of the Boston Bruins for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“He was huge today,” Rangers captain Chris Drury said of Avery. “When he is playing straight-ahead hockey like he did today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more effective guy. The hits he had, the goals he had, the way he got under their skin. It was just huge for us.”
Michal Rozsival’s power-play goal in the second period put the Rangers ahead for good.
Henrik Lundqvist made saves when they needed to be made, stopping 17 out of a total of 18 shots. This is his second win in a row after getting yanked against New Jersey on March 10 for allowing five goals on 17 shots.
The Flyers are tied with the Montreal Canadiens with 76 points, good for sixth place in the East. But Sunday’s regulation loss trimmed their cushion on the ninth-place Rangers to just five points.
Avery played with a purpose on Sunday after he was a healthy scratch against the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night. Aside from his two goals, he delivered plenty of big hits and drew a roughing penalty on the Flyers’ Scott Hartnell during the second period and an interference call on Braydon Coburn in the third. [I thought Hartnell deserved a four-minute minor during the ensuing scrum with Avery. Aves never dropped his gloves, yet Hartnell threw punches and continued to do so while Avery was being held by an official.]
The Flyers scored on their first shot on goal. With Olli Jokinen in the penalty box for slashing, Danny Briere wristed a shot through heavy traffic that found its way past Lundqvist, just 4:13 into the game, to make it 1-0.
The Rangers tied it off of a faceoff win by Erik Christensen, who pulled the puck back to Wade Redden. He ripped a shot that was initially stopped by Flyers’ goalie Michael Leighton, but Avery beat Flyers defenseman Matt Carle to the front of the net and backhanded the rebound chance just 1:53 into the second period to make it a 1-1 game.
Michal Rozsival put the Rangers up 2-1 with a power-play goal just 3:01 later. His rocket from the point deflected off the inside of the post and past Leighton, who was helpless against a great screen directly in front by Chris Drury. Christensen was credited with his second assist of the game on the goal, and I feel he is making a very strong case to be a part of the future plans of the Rangers.
With the Rangers playing a solid defensive third period, Avery had a monster shift that swung the game permanently in the Rangers’ favor. First, he harassed Flyers’ defenseman Ryan Parent and forced a turnover at center ice, which led to a scoring opportunity for Drury. Then, as the Flyers tried to regroup, he received a pass from Dan Girardi on the left wing, skated into the circle, and whipped a wrister past Leighton at 14:05 of the third period.
Avery was far from the only skater wearing the blue sweater who played with passion on Sunday. Rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto was a consistent physical presence and played a very smart game in his own defensive end, and defensemen Marc Staal and Michal Rozsival also played big minutes on Sunday.
Brandon Dubinsky drew a standing ovation from The Garden Faithful when he put a beating on Flyers’ captain Mike Richards in their center-ice fight with 3:46 remaining in the third.
“That’s a good club we played, coming off a huge win for them (against Chicago),” said Tortorella. “I thought we stood in there in the physical part of the game, and played very well as a team. We can enjoy it and then get back to work for our next game against Montreal.”
The Rangers faceoff against the Montreal Canadiens at MSG on Tuesday night, the second game of a three-game homestand for the Blueshirts which concludes on Thursday with a contest against the St. Louis Blues.
1st: Sean Avery – 2 goals
2nd: Michal Rozsival – 1 goal (powerplay)
3rd: Henrik Lundqvist – 17 saves on 18 shots