The New York Rangers desperately needed to not only end an eight-game winless streak at Madison Square Garden, but they need to find momentum before the NHL playoffs begin.
Ending any playoff hopes your arguably biggest rival had would probably be the best way to do both, and the Rangers did exactly that on Sunday night.
Mats Zuccarello had three points, assisting on all but one of the Rangers’ goals as they topped the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3. With the loss, the Flyers were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, sending them home early for the third time in five seasons.
The win also allowed the Rangers (47-26-6) to officially wrap the top wild card spot in the East, earning the victory in come-from-behind fashion. After a scoreless first period, the Flyers (38-33-8) got on the board, opening the scoring with Valtteri Filppula’s 11th goal of the season, scored just 33 seconds into the middle frame. Filppula, however, would later play goat when he was sent to the box for holding under three and a half minutes later. Merely ten seconds into the ensuing power play, Mika Zibanejad scored to tie the game. Before the period let out, Brendan Smith scored his first goal as a Rangers to give them the lead.
The Rangers spent the early portions of third building their lead, as Oscar Lindberg scored his eighth of the season before Chris Kreider extended it to 4-1, his 28th goal of the year breaking a tie with Michael Grabner for the team lead. A strong defensive effort by the Rangers appeared to put the game away, but the desperate Flyers, with an empty net, scored two goals in 51 seconds in the very late stages from Filppula and Brayden Schenn. Smith didn’t make the Rangers trek any easier with an interference penalty, but some clutch saves from Lundqvist and the return of strong defense in the final minute prematurely ended the Flyers’ season, and the Rangers clinched their third consecutive 100 point season, completing that feat for the first time since they did so from 1971-73.
With the trio of helpers, Zuccarello now has a career-high 44 assists on the season, tied for 10th amongst forwards in the league. Currently at 59 points, a team-high, Zuccarello is two points away from tying his career of 61, set last season.
With three games remaining in the regular season, the Rangers will next take fellow Metropolitan playoff team Washington on Wednesday night (8:00, NBCSN).