I truly believe that these four wins over the Flyers won’t mean jack-squat if the Rangers wind up in a playoff series against them. It doesn’t work that way. But I also truly believe that the Rangers are better. And here’s the thing. The Flyers have more skill. The Rangers—can you believe this—are tougher.
Here are a few of my favorite lines from my story in The Journal News and on LoHud.com today:
The Rangers beat the archrival Philadelphia Flyers for the fourth time in four meetings this season, 5-2 at the Garden.
Beat them all over the ice. Beat them in a game of knuckles and stick-slashes, stitches and bandages and ice packs. Beat them in battles. Beat them in skill. Beat them in will. Had an enormous advantage in goal — what else is new?
OK, maybe that’s the bottom line. If you switched Henrik Lundqvist for Ilya Bryzgalov, maybe the Flyers win this game. Maybe.
But the East-leading Rangers, for all they did well, got a win they deserved. Again. When things got rough, even downright nasty, they thrived. Again.”
The thing is, the Flyers didn’t dress their muscle for the Winter Classic and lost to the Rangers that way, and Sunday went back to their blood-and-butter. The thing is, the Rangers are tougher — in the true sense — than the Flyers. And they also controlled most of the game tactically, at times pinning Philadelphia behind its own net with an aggressive forecheck.”
1) The head coach made a couple of interesting decisions. He reunited the GAS line, and that sure worked. And he dressed Stu Bickel, even though Steve Eminger was healthy and cleared. That worked out, too. Kid’s got some onions. Keep him here. He doesn’t have to play every night, he doesn’t have to play in third periods. But he’s an asset. No doubt about it.
2) Does it just make you laugh when you think of Henrik Lundqvist vs. Ilya Bryzgalov? Could there be a bigger edge in a bigger role than the one the Rangers have there? Lundqvist made some monstrous saves in this game.
3) Maybe Brandon Dubinsky needs to play the Flyers every night. Maybe they should hypnotize him and tell him it’s the Flyers every night.
4) Saw some signs of a Brad Richards return. Baby steps, I guess.
6) Do you love the way this team plays? And the way it talks about the way it plays? And the way it understands that this is how it has to play? And the way it sticks to that?
7) I was thinking this while the Giants were celebrating that Lombardi Trophy (no comparison to Lord Stanley’s prize). A bad team can’t get into the playoffs and win a championship. But a good team that gets in can run the table. Though I think it’s a lot easier to win four football games than it is to win four best-of-sevens. I wouldn’t dream of calling these Rangers favorites for anything this spring, and if they don’t have much success at all, that’s typical of the sport in which they play. But I also wouldn’t be shocked if this team ends up near the finals, and even in the finals.
8) The Flyers obviously didn’t think they could outplay the Rangers, so they reverted to their old ways. That Sestito is a total clown with no ability, and I’ll be very interested to see how Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Soft Fines and Alleged Player Safety treat his hair-pulling. And if he did indeed intentionally scratch at Brandon Prust’s stitches, that’s plain disgusting and an example should be made of him.
9) Speaking of which … That Rinaldo, who was fined the max $2,500 each for two separate incidents Saturday against the Devils, got away with about three uncalled charging penalties. He got away with about eight minors overall, and the one time he did get called, the refs let him veer from the penalty box and go commit another uncalled penalty. They’ll probably retire No. 36 in Philly one day.
10) Back to the GAS line. Marian Gaborik has become a guy—I’ve said this before—who gets fired up when he gets hit. He took a big one yesterday, then scored that late goal at the end of the period. Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov … same thing.
11) The grunt guys were sure incredible in this game. That includes, now, Dubinsky, Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brian Boyle, John Mitchell (Mike Rupp’s hand was apparently too banged up for him to get too involved, but he played well). I always feel the need to point out some of the Boyle subtleties for some reason. There was a play along the wall. Jaromir Jagr had the puck and turned his gigantic backside so that Boyle couldn’t hit him. Boyle read which way Jagr would go, cut him off, and banged him cleanly into the wall.
12) I don’t even have to say how good The Captain was in this game, do I? Ditto for all the D-men … especially Michael Del Zotto, and Marc Staal in his best game of the season.
13) Now that football’s over, maybe some of New York might wake up and realize what’s going on at the World’s Most Famous.
My Three Rangers Stars (could have been about 18):
1) Marian Gaborik.
2) Artem Anisimov.
3) Stu Bickel.
AP photos, above.