NEW YORK -- Jason Akeson’s night went from a dream come true to a nightmare. And quickly.
Akeson had suited up for his first-ever NHL playoff game, and was playing well. He’d registered a few shots, blocked one and caused a giveaway, too. For a 23-year-old with only two career games with the Flyers under his belt, he looked like he belonged.
And then he took a third period high-sticking double-minor. The New York Rangers scored twice while he waited in the penalty box on their way to a 4-1 Game 1 victory (see game story).
“I guess you could say that [it was like a nightmare],” Akeson said. “But it’s not like I went out there and tried to take a four-minute penalty. It’s part of the game. It is what it is.”
Akeson, playing on the Flyers’ third line with Matt Read and Sean Couturier, was having a good night. He was playing aggressive and smart, putting three shots on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist -- good enough to tie Michael Raffl for the team lead.
The first few minutes of the game had been “nerve wracking,” Akeson said, but he had calmed himself down. He remembered it was just hockey, and had put the fans and the stakes of the game out of his mind. He’d gotten into a groove.
That is, until he went for a hit on Rangers winger Carl Hagelin at 7:35 of the third period.
“I went to hit him and my back leg kind of swung out,” Akeson said. “I don’t know what happened, I think I got hit or something, and my stick came up. It was obviously unfortunate, but it happened.”
Akeson said he had no idea at first that his stick made contact with Hagelin’s face. He had no idea he’d drawn blood and was surprised when he was handed the double-minor.
He watched Brad Richards score after the first minute of the Rangers’ power play to break the game’s 1-1 tie. And then he saw Derek Stepan add an insurance goal to the lead about 50 seconds later.
What was going through his mind as he watched the Rangers’ two quick goals?
“Nothing good,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
When Akeson returned to the bench, his teammates immediately did their best to pick him up. They told him to put it out of his mind. They reminded him that six games remained for the Flyers to get a series victory, that he shouldn’t dwell on his mistake. Their playoff hopes weren't over.
They were all “good to me,” Akeson said. They were all professionals.
“Those kinds of things happen,” Andrew MacDonald said. “As a team, you’ve got to get together and kill that off. He made a huge block earlier on that shift, sliding out to block it at the point.
“I hope he doesn’t feel too bad about it. Those kinds of things happen. He was making a good backcheck, and his stick just happened to come up.”
Akeson played 13:07 Thursday night and had even spent some time on the Flyers’ second power-play unit -- both of which were earned through strong play. His three hits added to a team total of 37, one of the few areas of the game in which the Flyers actually outplayed the Rangers.
And though he made a critical error, his coach didn’t ignore those positives. Craig Berube, though, said Akeson must improve.
“He’s got to be better with his stick,” Berube said. “Ake played a pretty good game, but you’ve got to control your stick.”
The series resumes Sunday afternoon in New York, an eternity in the realm of playoff hockey. The key for Akeson, his teammates agree, is to forget about the penalty and move on.
He’s just going to have to use it as a learning experience.
“Obviously I didn’t mean to do it,” he said. “I’ve just got to move on from here.”