NEW YORK - The thing about having Ray Emery in goal, and it is a skate blade that slices two ways, is that you know where he's going to be.
For the Flyers, who evened their opening-round series against the Rangers with a 4-2 win behind Emery on Sunday afternoon, they know he is going to be in the middle of the net and he's going to make enough stops to give them a chance.
Subbing for starter Steve Mason, who might have dengue fever for all the organization is saying but probably has a concussion, Emery has given the Flyers that chance to win in both games of the series now. They didn't take advantage in the opener, preferring to commit bad penalties and put New York on the power play for much of the deciding third period. On Sunday, however, despite falling behind by 2-0 at the start, the Flyers were as steady as their goalie and gained home-ice advantage in the series.
"He's a battler," coach Craig Berube said of Emery. "I've known Ray for a while. He stays with it. He's a true pro."
The flip side of the calming influence Emery brings as he takes shot after shot off the chest is that the other team knows where he's going to be, too, and knows that he doesn't always get to the shots that don't happen to hit him.
The Rangers came out with a plan, as they did in the first game, and it involved spreading the defense with cross-ice passes and forcing Emery to protect the goal from post to post very quickly. Emery is 31, having played 16 seasons and nearly 700 games since he broke in as a junior in 1998. There is a book on him now, and it says he won't come out quickly and make a mistake, but it also says he doesn't do much else quickly, either.
New York whipped the puck back and forth across the ice in the first period, with Martin St. Louis camping near the right circle to knock in a pass from way over there, and then with Benoit Pouliot doing the same on a power-play goal for the 2-0 lead. At that moment, midway through the opening period, it didn't look real good for the Flyers, but there was no way to know that the Rangers would get 29 more shots in the game and none of them would find a way past Emery.
"If you recognize that a team is doing certain things, you take notice. I don't like to get scored on," Emery said. "I try to be as patient as possible in there. Keep the same approach and not be overactive. It's important in the playoffs not to get too high or low; to be consistent and composed."
Everyone noticed that the cross-ice passes stopped being as effective right about then. That happened when the defense became more aggressive in shutting down those passing lanes and blocking shots. Emery took no credit for getting his teammates to pay attention.
"I'm a goalie. I just try to stop the shots," he said.
Whatever was said or done, it was a different team after that, particularly once Jake Voracek muscled in despite wearing a New York defenseman like a shawl and made it a 2-1 game late in the first period.
The Flyers didn't get smarter in the second period - they took another five penalties - but were able to survive because Emery was steadily rejecting shots (17 in the period) and because the officials helped them out by turning two of the penalties into coincidental minors by adding diving calls on the aggrieved Rangers. The nice people in Madison Square Garden did not agree, and their mood was not improved by two Flyers goals in the period that proved to be the difference in the game.
The third period was more anticlimax than anything. The Flyers took an early penalty, killed that, and the Rangers ceased to look very dangerous. In fact, New York was tentative on the puck for most of the game, which is a good sign for the Flyers for the rest of the series, now that it seems there will be a rest of the series.
Unless some immutable laws of hockey are changed in the next two days, Emery will continue to start in goal. He has earned the right and the team looks very settled and comfortable with him on the ice. It is probably a moot point. Mason couldn't finish a practice session on Saturday, suffering symptoms of whatever he's got. Throwing him into a tied series on Tuesday, a series that the Flyers now have an excellent chance to win, wouldn't be fair to either Mason or the team.
"I'm not thinking that far ahead," Berube said.
Sure, he isn't. If the Flyers were to go on a run with Emery in goal, it would be sweet redemption for him. A year ago with Chicago, Emery had a late-season groin injury that made Corey Crawford the postseason starter. Crawford and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, Emery got a ring, but not a minute on the ice in the playoffs. In fact, Sunday was his first postseason win in exactly three years.
"He always finds a way to battle," said Luke Shenn, who scored the game-winner Sunday. "He might not be the quickest guy out there. Maybe some younger guys in the league are, but he's a wise goalie and he competes hard."
Plus, you know where to find him. Right there in the middle of the net, giving you a chance. Sometimes, that's all it takes.