NEW YORK - Say this for New York fans, they have a sense of humor.
When the Rangers jumped out with two goals in the first 9 minutes of yesterday's Game 2, the Madison Square Garden faithful jeered the Flyers and goaltender Ray Emery with chants of "We Want Hex-tall."
The Rangers were on the verge of seizing the game, and taking early control of the series, when Emery responded by stopping the next 29 shots.
"We don't win this game without Razor," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said succinctly.
Emery was not the reason the Flyers lost Game 1, but he is why this series is going back to Philadelphia tied 1-1 after the Flyers' 4-2 win in New York.
Stars Rick Nash (six shots on goal) and Brad Richards (five) were the most frustrated Rangers, whose Easter basket of opportunities included six power plays for 11 minutes, 27 seconds. Emery stopped 31 of 33 New York attempts.
"You have to give credit," Rangers forward Martin St. Louis said. "Ray Emery played a pretty good game. We did a good job generating some chances, but at the end of the day, we collectively have to find the back of the net."
New York's two goals were similar to a few of the goals it scored in the opener when the Rangers frustrated the Flyers, 4-1. They stretched the offensive zone with cross-ice passes that caused Emery to move from post to post. Emery is 31, but his career nearly ended 4 years ago with the same hip injury that derailed football/baseball star Bo Jackson in the 1990s.
"It's great to play in the playoffs," said Emery, whose last postseason victory before yesterday came exactly 3 years before with Anaheim. "As a player, it's the time of the year you really want to play. I'm fortunate to be in there. I want to make the most of it."
Emery is playing because Steve Mason cannot due to an upper-body injury. Mason skated yesterday before the game but was again scratched. This might explain why the Rangers faithful was clamoring for Ron Hextall. Most of them probably think that Cal Heeter is some sort of a Los Angeles-area HVAC company. Heeter, in fact, was Emery's backup.
Returning to the issue at hand is whether Emery has played his way into maintaining the starter's job whenever Mason is cleared to return. Flyers coach Craig Berube understandably wouldn't commit; there's no competitive advantage in that. Still, it's hard to imagine Berube benching Emery for tomorrow's Game 3 should Mason be OK'd.
"Right now, we're at where we're at," Berube said. "I'm not really thinking that far ahead."
The victory ended a nine-game losing streak for the Flyers at Madison Square Garden, a place that players around the league will say is never easy.
Perhaps that has less to do with the bricks and mortar and more to do with the players wearing the blue sweaters. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is the best example. In beating the Flyers nine consecutive games here, Lundqvist had a 1.12 goals-against average and a .959 save percentage.
Those numbers will get into an opponent's head well before the ones that mark the intersection of 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue.
"Home ice is definitely a factor in the series," Emery said. "When you get a split out of their building, it's a start. It's a good start. We gotta perform in our building now."
Such is the nature of a playoff series. Ten minutes into yesterday's game, the Flyers were wobbling. Now, heading to Game 3, they've wrestled away home-ice advantage.
The Flyers were able to clamp down on those cross-ice passes by limiting the Rangers in transition and closing the gaps between their own defensemen and forwards. Emery, for his part, really wouldn't pinpoint what tactical changes he made. All he knew is that more rubber was hitting him and not the back of the net.