NEW YORK - Typically, NHL players playing their fourth career game do not get much attention, nor is there much pressure on them to make a significant impact. That is not the case for Jason Akeson.
With 14:15 left in the second period yesterday, and the Flyers trailing the Rangers by a goal, the rookie came up big. After Vinny Lecavalier's shot from the point was brushed aside, and Brayden Schenn deflected it to the left of the goal, Akeson found himself all alone with the puck, and an open net.
Akeson buried the shot, tying the game at 2 and giving the Flyers some tangible confidence for the rest of the game, a 4-2 win that evened their series against the Rangers.
"I just saw the puck get to the point to Vinny, and I tried to get in front," Akeson said. "Luckily it bounced out to me and I had an open net to shoot at."
The goal lifted the spirits of Flyers, giving them hope that they could finally squeak out a win in Madison Square Garden. And it might have been bigger for the confidence of the 23-year-old winger.
Game 1 did not go as planned for Akeson. During the third period of a tie game, he was called for a 4-minute, high-sticking penalty; as he went to check Carl Hagelin, his skate buckled and his stick flew up and struck the face of the Rangers forward, cutting him. The Rangers scored two power-play goals with Akeson in the box, en route to a 4-1 victory.
But Akeson did not allow the mishap to hinder him from moving forward.
"You think about it after the game, and that's about it," Akeson said. "You try and forget it and move on. Today is another day. That's what we focus on, the next day."
Despite the costly penalty, Akeson won over his teammates with his play, and they supported him throughout the time between games.
"He was our best player in the first game, to be honest," said Jake Voracek, who scored the Flyers' first goal. "He was very confident with the puck. He made a lot of plays. He had a couple of dangerous shots. Unfortunately, they scored from the penalty he took. For me, that happens. It's hockey. The stick sometimes comes up high."
"These guys are great players," Akeson said of his teammates. "They talk to me a lot out there and help me out. It makes my game a lot easier."
Given the circumstances of Game 1, it was unknown how much ice time Akeson would see yesterday. He played just over 13 minutes in Game 1, and while he did spend 4 minutes in the penalty box, the time he was on the ice made enough of an impression on the coaching staff to stick with him.
Yesterday, Akeson was on the ice for 9:06.
"I understand he took a 4-minute penalty, but he played well," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "It was a mistake, and you have to learn from them, but he is a good player."
The faith the coaching staff placed in Akeson paid off. While he did not see as much ice time as he did Thursday, he surely made an impact. He was in on 15 shifts, including 1:30 of power-play time. He capitalized on the power play, as his goal came with 4 seconds left on a Flyers advantage.
"I know he had my back. He let me do my thing," Akeson said of Berube.
"He is a very good player," Voracek said of Akeson, who was undrafted. "He has a good mindset, and it was very good to see him score that goal. He has a short memory; that's what you've gotta have to be successful."
Akeson is using the entire situation as a learning experience, and moving on with what looks like the beginning of a successful career.
"I don't think that penalty is going to determine if I play hard or not," Akeson said. "I'm going to come out here and try my hardest, no matter what. Unfortunate for the first game, but you look past it."
He and the Flyers bounced back from that game to regain home-ice advantage. They head back to the Wells Fargo Center knotted up in the series. And they are not resting on the laurels of winning one game on the road.