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Game No. 82 of the Rangers' season is now a Game 7.
Win and there's no need to worry about head-to-head tiebreakers. Win and there's no need to worry about the implication of an overtime loss.
The winner of Sunday's Flyers-Rangers regular-season finale in Philadelphia gets into the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's that simple.
|Marian Gaborik was the center of attention after his tiebreaking goal.|
It's Broadway vs. Broad Street with everything on the line.
"Here we are one game left, it's our destiny. We have it in our own hands," Marian Gaborik said after the Rangers' 4-3 win over the Flyers on Friday night at the Garden. "Last game of the season and it's going to be a big one."
It's a stunning turn of events for the Blueshirts, who haven't been in one of the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference since Feb. 1.
And Gaborik is a huge reason why the Rangers are still alive.
The winger scored the game-winning goal with three minutes to go in the second period, snapping a 3-3 tie. From there, Henrik Lundqvist took over, making 10 of his 27 saves in a frenzied third period to help the Rangers hold on for one more night.
The Rangers are barely three weeks removed from a brutal loss in Boston that dropped them seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with 10 games to go.
Miraculously, they now sit tied with Philly (86 points) for eighth place in the East. They are one point behind Boston, which hosts Carolina on Saturday and then travels to Washington for the regular-season finale. The Rangers are also one point behind Montreal, which wraps up its season against Toronto on Saturday.
They've gone 7-1-1 in their past nine games to put them in position to make their fifth straight postseason. A Rangers loss on Friday night in regulation would have killed any shot they had at the playoffs.
"I think we were counted out a few weeks ago by a number of people," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We just continued to try to peck away. ... Now it does come down to one last game."
If they can match the intensity they showed on Friday night, minus a few nearly catastrophic mistakes around the net that could have cost them the game, the Rangers should be able to beat the Flyers and set up what would be a first-round matchup with the first-place Washington Capitals.
At least Tortorella thinks so.
"We are loose. I think the pressure is on [the Flyers]," the coach said. "We feel very comfortable playing on the road."
The Flyers jumped out to a 1-0 lead 40 seconds into the game when a Marc Staal turnover fell right on the stick of Flyers center Mike Richards, who buried the errant pass past Lundqvist. The Rangers countered with a power-play goal from Chris Drury and tallies from Jody Shelley and Brandon Dubinsky to take a 3-1 lead midway through the second. At that point, the Blueshirts looked like they could punch their ticket to Sunday's showdown in Philly.
But the Flyers, who are on a 3-7-1 skid, battled back when Simon Gagne found Danny Briere open in the slot. Briere beat Lundqvist to his right to pull the Flyers within 3-2 and they tied it six minutes later on Richards' second tally of the night -- an ugly goal that trickled through Lundqvist's legs.
The goal wasn't entirely Lundqvist's fault. With Richards on a breakaway, defenseman Michal Rozsival knocked the puck out of his stick and into Lundqvist. The Rangers goalie poked the puck away, but it caromed off Rozsival's leg, past Lundqvist and into the net, setting the Garden crowd into a nervous frenzy.
Fortunately for the Blueshirts, Gaborik answered two minutes later and the Rangers' lead held up -- thanks to Lundqvist, who stood tall in the third.
"It was intense, the last three or four minutes," the goalie said.
He could have been talking about the last three weeks for his team. But after 81 games of hockey that were inconsistent, and at times brutally disappointing, the Rangers have their playoff lives in their own hands Sunday at Philadelphia.
Game No. 82 of the regular season, but it's a Game 7 for the Rangers.