JASON AKESON skated beyond the blue line, pulled back as if winding up to shoot, and sent the puck toward the net.
But not exactly at the net.
The puck ricocheted off the boards at a perfect angle, just so that it left Matt Read with the puck on his stick and an opening around Rangers' goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Read put it home. Then he found himself wondering.
"I asked [Akeson] when we got back to the bench if he meant to do that and he just smiled," Read said after last night's 2-1 win against the Rangers in Game 4 of the first-round playoff series. "So I assume he did. It was a great play if he did or if he didn't. It bounced right to my forehand. I don't know how he did that."
At first, Akeson said, he was going to aim for the net. The lane wasn't there.
"It would be a better story for you guys if I tell you I practice that all day in practice," Akeson said, smiling. "It's just a play that happened and luckily Reader put it home."
It was the type of play Scott Hartnell had discussed after practice the day prior, a perhaps efficient manner in which to get the puck down low and around a Rangers' defense that blocked 28 shots in Game 3. Akeson, with all of six games of NHL experience, executed it to perfection. The 23-year-old right wing continues to be a pleasant surprise in a series that has the Flyers and Rangers even at 2 entering tomorrow's Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.
"He's smart with the puck," Claude Giroux said of Akeson. "He makes some plays where everybody on the bench looks at each other and says,'Where did that come from?' "
Akeson logged only 8:47 of ice time last night, but made each of his 12 shifts count. He registered two shots, assisted on the Flyers' first goal and was on the ice for 62 seconds of power-play time.
Not bad for a guy who made his season debut during the final game of the regular season. A few weeks later, he's now played twice as many playoff games in his career (four) as regular-season games (two).
Akeson made headlines after Game 1 when his stick went high and cut Carl Hagelin, giving the Rangers a key 4-minute penalty in a tie game. Two power-play goals ensued for New York, which went on to win, 4-1.
Akeson's teammates and coaches made sure to point out afterward that he played well before that miscue, and he certainly has not let the ending of Game 1 affect him since. In the Flyers' 4-2 victory in Game 2, the 5-10, 190-pound forward scored the first postseason goal of his young NHL career on a power play to tie the game.
"If he has the puck and a little bit of time and space, he's smart with it. He'll make plays," said Read, who plays on the same line with Akeson, as well as Sean Couturier. "He's good at getting into open areas. If you have the puck, he can find that open area. He's an easy guy to play with."
Akeson, the leading scorer for the Phantoms the last three seasons, said he is "just trying to enjoy the ride right now." Asked whether he imagined 3 weeks ago playing this much of a role in the postseason, he was honest and noted, "It's a little crazy."
"It's something I've been working for my whole life and now getting the opportunity I don't want to let it slip out of my hands," he said. "I just want to keep working and looking forward."