NEW YORK - Flyers rookie Jason Akeson was living a dream yesterday morning. By the evening, he was caught in a hockey nightmare.
Akeson, playing in just his third NHL game - and his first in the playoffs - was having a pretty good day all around up until a collision with Rangers forward Carl Hagelin changed Game 1 of this playoff series.
Akeson charged hard at Hagelin trying to make a big hit along the boards at center ice. But his skate buckled a bit before impact and his stick swung up and cut Hagelin. The Rangers scored twice on the ensuing 4-minute power play and went on to win, 4-1.
"I went to hit the guy and unfortunately my back leg kicked out," said Akeson, who was disappointed, but composed. "My stick came up. It was all-around unfortunate. I didn't mean to do it."
It's not easy to be lonely in an arena filled with 20,000 people, but there Akeson sat in the penalty box as the Madison Square Garden crowded erupted twice. His first visit ever to New York City will be unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.
After the first power-play goal, Akeson slammed down a towel and sat motionless while Brad Richards celebrated what would become the game-winner.
When Derek Stepan added another dagger 47 seconds later, Akeson stood up and did the walk of shame back to the Flyers' bench. Claude Giroux offered a hint of encouragement with a quick tap of his stick on Akeson's shin pads. Linemate Brayden Schenn then put an arm around Akeson as the two sat at the end of the bench.
Flyers coach Craig Berube, however, offered nothing. Such is Chief's way.
"I didn't say anything to him yet," Berube said in his postgame press conference. "He's gotta be better with his stick. Akky played a pretty good game, but you've got to control your stick."
The three penalties the Flyers committed after Akeson's probably bothered Berube just as much. Once the Rangers got the two-goal lead, Giroux and Zac Rinaldo picked up slashing minors and Schenn was sent to the box for a crosscheck.
The Flyers also squandered their only power play of the game when Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh got his stick up in Scott Hartnell's grill. The Flyers, whose power play had been so good down the stretch, did not register a shot during the 2-minute man advantage.
"We know what kind of players we have out there," said Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello. "Obviously, when we scored two in a row like that, it's a big boost for us. It won us the game, for sure."
Akeson, who turns 24 on June 3, actually had a pretty strong game otherwise. He had three of the Flyers' puny 15 shots on goal and had a courageous block of defenseman John Moore's shot from the point just before committing the penalty.
Akeson is in the lineup because Steve Downie has an upper-body injury and Akeson's offensive prowess is superior to Tye McGinn's.
Right after the morning skate, Akeson was practically beaming. He sat back in his cubicle and talked about what an unforgettable ride the last week or so had been. Getting called up from Adirondack, playing in the regular-season finale and now getting his first taste of playoff hockey.
A Senators fan as a kid, Akeson would be playing in front of Flyers goalie Ray Emery, who took Ottawa to the 2007 finals.
But all of that was forgotten after the goals by Richards and Stepan.
"I've only been here a little while, but I have a lot of confidence in the guys here," Akeson said. "I'm certain that we'll bounce back."
Veteran defenseman Andrew MacDonald concurred.
"This isn't going to kill him or anything," said MacDonald, who scored the Flyers' only goal. "I'm sure he feels bad about it, but those things happen. He made a great play just before [when he blocked Moore's shot]. We'll just tell him to shake it off and prepare for Game 2."