NEW YORK -- Jason Akeson was the scapegoat of the Flyers’ Game 1 loss to the New York Rangers. But in Game 2, he played the role of a catalyst.
The rookie winger wasn’t the reason the Flyers lost last Thursday, but he was a big part of their 4-2 victory at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon (see story). He made it a point to make up for the ill-timed high-sticking double-minor he took in the third period of Game 1 (see story).
“For sure,” Akeson said. “I don’t think a bad penalty is going to determine if I play harder or not, I try my hardest no matter what. It was unfortunate for the first game, but we looked past it. We won the second game, and now we look onto the third.”
With his team trailing 2-1, Akeson tied it up on the power play in the second period when he batted home the rebound of Vinny Lecavalier’s shot from the point. In 9:06 of ice time, he blocked three shots and sent three of his own in on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (see highlights).
With the series now tied 1-1, and with his first career playoff goal under his belt, Akeson felt a lot better at the conclusion of this one than he did just a few days ago.
“It feels good now for sure,” he said. “Now, like we had to move past the last one, we have to move past this one and look forward onto Game 3.”
In a way, though, Akeson is lucky. He didn’t deserve the blame for the Flyers’ loss in Game 1, but he is young and inexperienced at the NHL level. Often times, the leash on such players can be understandably short.
But instead of scolding him for the two Rangers goals that were scored during his penalty in Game 1, coach Craig Berube told Akeson to keep doing what he was doing. The Flyers’ coach told him to continue to play his game and work hard. And that was it.
Berube said he wasn’t at all hesitant to keep Akeson in the lineup.
“Should I sit everybody who takes a penalty?” Berube asked. “I understand he took a four-minute penalty, but he played well. It was a mistake. You’ve got to learn from them, but he’s a good player. He’s played well for us.”
Akeson spent some time thinking about the penalty after the first game, he admitted, but then forced it from his mind. His teammates were there to help him too – as Wayne Simmonds told him, he couldn’t let one mistake eat away at him.
With two days to move past the 4-1 Game 1 loss, Akeson entered Sunday’s affair focused and ready. He didn’t dwell on his error, or the game’s outcome, or the high stakes of Game 2. He knew what it was like to play at the Garden and had grown more comfortable. It showed (see 10 observations).
“[My nerves were] good,” he said. “I just tried to think of it as another hockey game and go out there and play as hard as I can, and try and get some momentum going for the team.”
He brought energy to his line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, which finished with seven shots and seven hits. The line had actually played very well for most of Thursday’s loss, despite the end result.
In making up for his penalty, Akeson had just hoped to continue the success he was able to find with his linemates in that first game.
“I felt our line played really well in the first two periods [in Game 1],” he said. “I thought we had some good energy and great offensive zone time. We were talking today, if we just keep playing like that, today’s game would be OK. And I thought we did well.”
After his first NHL playoff game, his first playoff goal and his first trip to New York City – all of which came this week – Akeson still has one first left to tick off his list. That will come Tuesday when he takes the ice at the Wells Fargo Center for his first-ever postseason game in front of Flyers fans.
No matter how he’s received, he said, he’s looking forward to it.
“Philly fans are great,” Akeson said. “I’m just excited to play in front of them, that’s for sure.”