3 Stars: Flyers crush Rangers to knot series and force decisive Game 7 on Wednesday in New York

3 Stars: Flyers crush Rangers to knot series and force decisive Game 7 on Wednesday in New York

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 5-2, series-tying victory over the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round series on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center through the perspective of an exceptional special teams unit and two dominant Flyers.

The Flyers have played their best hockey this season when their backs have been against the wall. Game 6 on Tuesday night was the most effective and important example of that yet.

Philadelphia ran wild over New York in the second period with three goals and chased Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to an early exit.

The Flyers flat-out dominated in impressive fashion after the first period and set up Game 7 tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m.

It was such an impressive performance that I’m naming two first stars. I don’t care.

[Related: The 7 best photos of Wayne Simmonds forcing Game 7 with his first playoff hat trick | Wayne Simmonds get the Daily News' puny cover treatment]

 

3. The Flyers’ penalty kill

One can’t write enough glowing things about to the Flyers’ penalty kill to praise just how great it has been this series.

After shutting down five more Rangers’ power plays on Tuesday, the Flyers’ penalty killers have now killed off 20-straight Rangers’ man advantages. And one of those kills on Tuesday night led directly to a huge Flyers’ goal that basically iced the game.

As the successful kill wound down midway through the second period, Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn swatted a loose puck down the ice and hit a streaking Erik Gustafsson, who had just left the box after taking a high-sticking penalty, to send him on a breakaway. Gustafsson wristed a rocket through the five-hole of Lundqvist to give the Flyers a 3-0 and they never looked back.

A lot of credit for the penalty kill will go to forwards Sean Couturier and Matt Read for the way they pressure the puck and make smart reads, and rightfully so. But every Flyer that contributes on the penalty kill deserves credit, too, for keeping a dangerous Rangers’ power play that finished in the top-half of the league during the regular season in check.

The Flyers’ penalty kill will no doubt continue be huge key in Game 7.

 

1. Steve Mason

Let’s be honest here. Despite scoring the opening tally and taking a lead into first intermission for the first time in the series, the Flyers did not play well at all to start the first period.

The Rangers dominated puck possession and the Flyers could barely get the puck out of their zone while struggling with turnovers, just as we had seen all series long.

The difference this time was that Mason had every answer, made 13 crucial saves and helped settle his team down so they could find their game. And then he continued to be spectacular for the rest of the contest.

All told, Mason made 34 saves to help propel the Flyers to Game 7. And most of those 34 saves were not of the easy variety.

He robbed the Rangers on multiple occasions with his glove hand. The glove save he made on forward Benoit Puliot on a break during a Rangers’ power play in the second period was just remarkable, even more so because that would have cut the lead in half and got the Rangers right back into the game at 2-1.

Forget about those two goals the Rangers scored in garbage time. Mason just kept making big save after big save.

There was a reason the crowd chanted, “Mason! Mason!” as the seconds ticked down. He was the backbone of his team’s victory.

A locked-in Mason is just what the Rangers didn’t want heading into Wednesday’s decisive game, but that’s what they’re getting.

1. Wayne Simmonds

The day before Game 6, Simmonds told reporters, “We’ve got to be more aggressive. Be better. We can’t be scared out there. We have to go out there to win.

Did he ever go out and back those statements up on Tuesday night.

Simmonds recorded his first career playoff hat trick in the victory.

He got the scoring started in the first when he kept pounding away at a rebound and finally pushed the puck past Lundqvist for the all-important first goal of the game.

He added to the Flyers’ lead early in the second after Brayden Schenn fanned on a shot but the puck went right to Simmonds, who slammed it home for a 2-0 lead.

Later on in that second period, Simmonds deflected a Jake Voracek shot past Lundqvist to cap the hat trick with a power-play goal that gave the Flyers a 4-0 lead and was the cherry on top of a stellar performance.

The beautiful thing about all three of Simmonds’ goals is that they all were scored from within about five feet of the crease. And that’s just what the Flyers need him to do.

Flyers fans know that bad things happen when Mr. Simmonds is in his office. Lundqvist and the Rangers found that out the hard way in Game 6. After containing Simmonds to just an empty-net goal in the series before Game 6, the Rangers now have to deal with a Wayne Train that’s moving full-speed ahead into Game 7.

 

Forget anything that’s happened in this series so far. Forget any of those historic Game 7 stats you’ll hear about until puck drop on Wednesday night. None of those things matter because Game 7 is a total crapshoot.

But the Flyers have the one thing that will matter: momentum. That’s especially true considering the way they handily won on Tuesday and the fact that Game 7 is less than 24 hours away.

It’s on at the Garden tonight.

Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 78, Providence 68

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Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 78, Providence 68

BOX SCORE

Seniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins combined for 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and No. 1 Villanova held off Providence, 78-68, in a Big East game at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday afternoon.
 
Villanova extended a four-point halftime lead to as much as 20 points before hot-shooting Providence closed to within nine with five minutes left. Villanova then went on a 13-3 run to put the game out of reach.
 
Hart had 25 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Wildcats, and Jenkins added 19 points, four boards and four assists. Both shot over 50 percent.
 
Sophomore Mikal Bridges scored 15 points, matching his Big East career high, and also had three rebounds and three assists, and Jalen Brunson contributed 13 points to go with three rebounds and four assists.
 
Providence stayed in the game by shooting 13 for 26 from three against the No. 3 three-point shooting defense in Division 1.
 
What it means
Villanova improved to 19-1 overall and 7-1 and in first place in the Big East. The Wildcats have won five in a row since losing at Butler on Jan. 4.
 
Providence fell to 13-8 and 3-5 in the conference and 1-6 on the road. The Friars have lost six of eight since an 11-2 start.
 
Villanova is now 47-34 all-time at the Wells Fargo Center but 14-2 in its last 16 games at the South Philly arena.
 
Stat of the day
Providence shot better from three (50 percent) than two (44 percent). The Friars made 13 threes and just nine two-pointers.

Turning point
Providence trailed by just four at halftime at 35-31, but Bridges opened the second half with a steal and fast-break reverse layup and a jumper from the top of the key to start an 8-0 run that gave Villanova a 12-point lead. The Friars never got any close than eight points the rest of the game.
 
By the numbers
• Providence’s 50 percent shooting from three is the highest against ‘Nova since North Carolina shot 65 percent in the national championship game on April 4 in Houston.

• Villanova’s bench scored just two points.

• Providence’s 13 threes are the most by a Big East team against Villanova since Doug McDermott and Creighton had 21 in a 28-point win three years ago this week.

• Rodney Bullock led Providence with 17 points (3 for 5 from three), Jalen Lindsey added 14 (4 for 7 from three) and Isaiah Jackson came off the bench to score 12 (3 for 3 from three).

• Darryl Reynolds' last two double-digit rebound games have both been against Providence.
 
What's next
Villanova travels to Milwaukee for a Tuesday night game against Marquette. The Golden Eagles are 12-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big East with a game later Saturday at Creighton.
 
Villanova has won nine straight games against Marquette, since the Golden Eagles — then ranked No. 17 — came back from 18 points down to win 82-78 at the Wells Fargo Center in January 2012.