NEW YORK – Another sign the Flyers are making themselves into a serious contender was the way they jumped on top of the New York Rangers early on Sunday and then held on for a hard-earned win.
Marching into hostile Madison Square Garden with old nemesis Henrik Lundqvist on guard for the Blueshirts — who were still smarting from a Friday night loss in Philly — the Flyers roared to a 5-1 lead.
The Rangers scored a pair of power-play goals in the third period (three for the game) to get the crowd back into it but the Flyers buckled down after that and came away with a 5-3 victory.
In the first period, the Flyers scored twice on the power play, once shorthanded for a 3-0 lead. They finished with three power-play goals, tying a season-high.
The victory extended the Flyers’ winning streak to a season-high six games and temporarily moved them to within one point of the Metro Division-leading Washington Capitals, who were scheduled to play later on Sunday night.
Goalie Carter Hart won his second straight road game after registering just two road wins in the first 60 games.
Jake Voracek had two assists for this game, giving him six for the two-game set. He tied a career high with four in the Flyers’ 5-2 triumph on Friday.
Matt Niskanen indicated the Flyers won this game on the strength of their power play, which set the tone for the game early on.
“The power play was good early in the game, it won us the game,’’ Niskanen said. “They gradually came back into it with their power play but we built up a nice lead because we jumped on them early.’’
Kevin Hayes went along with that assessment.
“Three power-play goals, they got back into it a little bit (in the third period) but ultimately we gave ourselves a good enough cushion,’’ he said. “It held up for us.’’
In all, eight goals were scored and only one of them came at even-strength.
“That’s hockey sometimes,’’ Hayes said. “Sometimes we’re eight for eight on the PK (penalty kill), feeling great about ourselves and you win 5-3 and you’re kind of upset with your PK because you gave up three goals.’’
Niskanen kicked things off just 1:52 into the game when, with the Rangers’ Ryan Lindgren in the penalty box, he finished off a play which saw a Nicolas Aube-Kubel shot bounce off the post.
At 11:19, the Flyers struck again. This time Sean Couturier, who was a game-time decision due to an illness, knocked in the rebound of Voracek’s short shot.
Finally, with the Flyers down a man, newly acquired Derek Grant broke in and fed Michael Raffl, who executed a nifty backhand deke to get the puck past Lundqvist.
In the second period, Grant got past the Ranger defense, rushed in and banked a backhand shot off Lundqvist’s skate into the net at 1:23.
The Rangers finally got on the board at 12:34. While New York was on the power play, Mika Zibanejad steered Artemi Panarin’s entry past Hart.
But the Flyers quickly answered. Just five seconds after Ryan Strome went for slashing, Travis Konecny poked in a shot via Voracek at 15:34.
The Rangers got that one back with another power-play goal at 5:33 of the third. Pavel Buchnevich redirected a shot into the net to cut the Flyers’ lead to 5-2. New York got its third power-play goal at 12:39.
Couturier was quite ill on Saturday night and the Flyers called up Joel Farabee as a precaution. But Couturier felt better by game time.
“I felt pretty bad last night,’’ he said. “Better today.
“I think we’re starting to get into that groove on the power play. Lot of set plays, a lot of options, we’re using them right now, we’re executing. It’s good to get our confidence back. Now we just have to build on that and keep rolling.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault liked the way his team came out “prepared’’ to play. It’s never easy when it’s an early start on the road.
“It was a funny game,’’ he said. “More specialty teams than what we’ve seen in a long time. Our power play was clicking incredibly well. I thought our PK, we did a good job and then in the third, we didn’t do a good job on the clear on the third goal and they made us pay.
“They made it a game, had some momentum, had us on our heels a little bit. But we were able to finish it off and get the two points.’’
The Flyers have beaten the Rangers in nine of their last 10 meetings. This was the 300th time the Flyers have played the Rangers; their all-time record against New York is 131-123-39-9 for 308 points. . .During the game, the Rangers played a video tribute to former coach Vigneault (now in charge of the Flyers) and ex-Ranger center Hayes. “It was cool,’’ Hayes said. “I had five years here that were unbelieveable. I came out of college and I became a grownup here. It was nice to show this with AV, who was my coach the whole time here except for the last year.’’. . .Grant’s multi-point game was the ninth of his career but sixth of this season.