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Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers eliminate Philadelphia Flyers from 2017 playoffs

By
Jim Cerny, The Sports Xchange
New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) makes a save. File photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) makes a save. File photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK -- Spurred by Mats Zuccarello's three-point game, the New York Rangers clinched at least the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with their first win at Madison Square Garden since Feb. 19, a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night.

Four players scored for the Rangers (47-26-6), and Henrik Lundqvist made 20 saves in the victory. Lundqvist saved his best for last, a lightning-quick glove save with 13.9 seconds remaining in regulation after the Flyers had pulled to within one.

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"It was a long reach," Lundqvist said of his stretch to make the clutch save. "It was an important one, and important to get the win here, too."

Zuccarello assisted on second-period goals by Mika Zibanejad and Brendan Smith (Smith's first goal as a Ranger) and a third-period tally by Oscar Lindberg. Chris Kreider added his team-high 28th goal midway through the third period to put the Rangers up 4-1.

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"I've said it since Day One, (Zuccarello) is one of the elite passers in the game," said Rangers alternate captain Derek Stepan. "The guy is an elite player, there is no doubt about it."

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The Flyers (38-33-8) made one last desperate push, as Brayden Schenn scored his 25th goal at 17:54 and Valtteri Filppula netted his second of the game at 18:45, though the comeback ultimately fell one goal short.

"When we made it 4-2 we actually believed we were going to come back," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. "The attitude of the guys is great, and the character; but we're in the position we're in now because what we did early on this season."

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The loss mathematically eliminated the Flyers from playoff contention.

"Ever since December we played inconsistent hockey, and that's why we are where we are in the standings, and why we are out," Schenn said.

The Rangers, who lost eight straight on home ice coming into play Sunday, more than likely will cross over and face the Atlantic Division champion in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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The latest victory gives the Rangers 100 points on the season, the franchise-record third consecutive year they reached that mark.

"We obviously knew we have not won here in a long time," said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal. "We've been trying, but weren't able to seal the deal. We found a way tonight."

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After Filppula took advantage of a Rangers turnover at the blue line to open the scoring 33 seconds into the second period, Zuccarello took over as the Rangers scored the next four goals of the contest.

Three minutes after surrendering the game-opening score, the Rangers answered back on Zibanejad's power-play goal at 3:57. Zuccarello picked up the only assist with a crisp cross-ice pass to Zibanejad, whose left-wing shot went through a Kreider screen, off the shoulder of Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz, and into the net, with Filppula sitting in the penalty box.

Then Zuccarello helped the Rangers take their first lead at 7:10 when his slick feed off the rush sprang Smith in alone on Stolarz. Smith roofed a pretty backhand finish over Stolarz to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead they carried into the second intermission.

The goal was not only Smith's first since being acquired from Detroit at the trade deadline, it was his first goal since Nov. 10 while wearing a Red Wings sweater.

"I was able to beat my man up the ice and (Zuccarello) made a really nice pass to me and then I blacked out, not really sure what happened after that," said a Smith through a smile.

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New York upped its lead to 3-1 at 7:01 of the third period. Lindberg potted his own rebound after Zuccarello started the play behind Philadelphia's net.

Zuccarello was again on ice for the Rangers' fourth goal, but failed to earn a point when Kreider deflected a Stepan shot past Stolarz at 9:10.

The Rangers survived the final two-minute scare, finally securing a win at home while locking down their playoff position.

"For 58 minutes it was probably one of our better efforts," said Lundqvist. "The last two minutes we made a couple decisions there with the puck that we just need to be better. We just have to keep getting better and get ready for the playoffs."

NOTES: Flyers G Michal Neuvirth was released from Pennsylvania Hospital Sunday afternoon and was home resting after collapsing in his crease during Saturday's game against the New Jersey Devils. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Neuvirth will be reevaluated on Monday. ... The Flyers scratched D Radko Gudas (upper body), RW Matt Read (upper body), C Nick Cousins, RW Mike Vecchione, and LW Roman Lyubimov. ... Rangers D Ryan McDonagh missed his second straight game with an unspecified ailment. ... The Rangers also scratched D Adam Clendening, D Steven Kampfer, LW Pavel Buchnevich, LW Matt Puempel, and C Brandon Pirri.

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