NEW YORK - Big games in close playoff races are meant to come down to a final break, lucky or otherwise.
The Rangers and Flyers understand that. And they did not disappoint last night. For the second time in consecutive games against each other, the Rangers and Flyers played into overtime. This time, Mike Richards flipped a backhander over Henrik Lundqvist, 2:16 into overtime, with defenseman Marek Malik hanging all over him, giving the Flyers a 2-1 victory in Madison Square Garden.
"A garbage goal," Richards called his 27th of the season. "It wasn't the prettiest, it was not where I wanted to shoot it, but they all count, and that's a big win for our hockey team."
To say the least.
With most of the contenders in the Eastern Conference in action last night, the victory allows the Flyers to hold tight to the seventh seed in the playoff hunt over the Boston Bruins, who won in Toronto.
The win also preserves the cushion they hold over Washington, Florida, Buffalo and Toronto, all of whom are still in the playoff race
The Flyers are just a point behind the sixth-place Rangers. They are two points ahead of Boston, four ahead of Washington and seven ahead of Florida and Buffalo.
"I didn't see the scoreboard but we knew this was going to be a big night for the Eastern Conference," Richards said. "We knew everyone was going to be playing and we knew what was at stake and we stuck to the game plan and didn't get frustrated when they were checking us. We created opportunities for ourselves through hard work."
The Rangers led through most of the game until Daniel Briere scored 7:32 into the third period to tie the game, 1-1.
Martin Biron gave up an early goal to Jaromir Jagr but made 31 saves.
"We talked before the game that this was an opportunity for us to really take a step as a team," coach John Stevens said. "Coming in here the Rangers had a few days rest and we knew they would be ready to go, and we just felt like we could take a step as a team if we played with composure.
"Our veteran guys stepped up again and we got contributions right through the lineup. Even the fourth line goes out there and plays with discipline and draws a penalty. We got contributions from everybody dressed tonight."
The Flyers started the game unable to contain the Rangers forecheck or Jagr. Matched against Briere's line of Vaclav Prospal and Scott Hartnell, Jagr used his reach to hold off defenseman Kimmo Timonen while he spun out of the corner and toward the net, firing as he turned. Biron was still moving as the big winger fired and the puck went past his feet, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead 1:41 into the game.
The score held through the second period. The Flyers' penalty kill was sharp and kept the Rangers off the board, but the power play was unable to create a good chance on two opportunities.
The Rangers held the lead until Briere and Prospal played a quick give-and-go in tight that resulted in Briere's 30th goal of the season.
In overtime, Flyers defenseman Jason Smith intercepted a Sean Avery pass and shot the puck down to Richards, who forced his way into the zone and toward Lundqvist.
The win sends the Flyers into the second game of a four-game road trip, Friday at New Jersey. The Flyers have not won in their last 11 regular-season games in North Jersey.
"This was a huge two points for us," Timonen said. "We've got to go game by game and New Jersey is a big game, obviously. But the last five games are all going to be big games for us.
"The way we've been playing the last few games, we've been getting a good team effort. For two periods we were a little not on top of our game, but it was a 1-0 hockey game and in the second period we were talking about this is so close, we just need one and it was our game, and that happened." *