PHILADELPHIA -- Wayne Simmonds was the undisputed hero of Game 6, scoring a hat trick for the Philadelphia Flyers as they battered the New York Rangers 5-2 to tie the series 3-3 and force a winner-takes-all Game 7 on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
While a resilient Flyers squad refused to roll over for the Rangers, the Blueshirts faltered again at closing out the series and taking care of business when it mattered most. The Rangers have now dropped 12 straight playoff contests while leading the series.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and though the Rangers have had three separate leads during the series, the momentum has now tilted squarely in the Flyers’ favor.
Simmonds had a banner night, while birthday boy Dan Girardi, who turned 30 on Tuesday, had a game he’d probably like to forget. Though the Rangers defenseman has been one of the team’s best players this series, he struggled with the puck during a couple of critical moments during the Rangers’ loss.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who notched his second goal of the series with an empty-net goal in the third period, finished with three points.
Turning point: A suspect high-sticking call in the second period changed the complexion of the game. The crowd was absolutely livid when Erik Gustafsson was sent to the box for the phantom penalty, but the Flyers responded with a stellar penalty kill that was capped by Steve Mason's glove save on Benoit Pouliot with 34 seconds remaining. After the Flyers killed off their 18th straight power play for the Rangers, they took a 3-0 lead when Gustafsson emerged from the box, beat Lundqvist and reignited a raucous Wells Fargo Center crowd.
Stutter step: Despite a strong start and extended possession time in the first period, the Rangers fell behind in the first period after a pair of costly mistakes. Winger Pouliot, who took a pair of ill-advised penalties in Game 3, took yet another when he was whistled for hooking Giroux in the offensive zone during the first period. Down a man, Girardi turned the puck over when his attempted pass through the neutral zone was intercepted and resulted in a power-play rush the other way. Simmonds, perhaps the team’s best net-front presence, missed a gimme at the left post but redeemed himself later in the shift when he jammed home a rebound for a 1-0 Flyers lead at 7:08.
Down on D: The Flyers’ defense was already considered a weakness heading into the series, and it was weakened further with the loss of veteran blue-liner Nicklas Grossmann in Game 4. Grossmann will miss the remainder of the playoffs after undergoing surgery Tuesday to repair “tendon damage,” a procedure that is expected to sideline him for eight to 10 weeks.