Simmonds had a hat trick and goaltender Steve Mason made 34 saves to lead the Flyers past the Rangers 5-2 in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference First Round series.
Claude Giroux had a goal and two assists and Erik Gustafsson scored for the Flyers. Philadelphia also killed off all five Rangers power plays; they’ve stopped the Rangers now on 20 straight advantages, dating to Game 2 of the series.
Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello scored third-period goals for the Rangers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist allowed four goals on 23 shots in two periods. Cam Talbot made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut in the third period in relief, stopping all five shots he faced.
The best-of-7 series is tied 3-3 with Game 7 on Wednesday in New York (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN2, CSN-PH, MSG).
“Two good teams that are battling hard,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We have home ice so we’ll go home and get ready.”
Simmonds had a career-high 29 goals in the regular season, but had been limited to one in the first five games of this series. That changed in short order as he scored all three goals from a distance of about a stick blade’s length from the goal.
“We kept the pressure up,” Simmonds said. “We had second chances and third chances and fourth chances. We kept going and didn’t quit on plays. That was the difference.”
Those extra chances were what Simmonds needed to score his first goal.
With the Flyers on the power play, Dan Girardi tried to clear the puck but Giroux intercepted the clearing attempt in the neutral zone and started a 3-on-2 rush with Simmonds and Scott Hartnell. The Flyers worked the puck around the offensive zone with Giroux pulling it out of the left corner and centering it to Hartnell. Lundqvist stopped his shot, but Simmonds grabbed the rebound and slid a shot off the skates of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, then banged the rebound past Lundqvist.
It was the first time since Game 1 that the Flyers scored the game’s first goal. It also was the Flyers’ second power-play goal at home in eight chances in the series.
Simmonds made it 2-0 by being in the right place at the right time when Brayden Schenn took the puck from Girardi in the New York zone. It rolled off his stick as he drove to the net but went right to Simmonds, who slammed it home 92 seconds into the second period.
Gustafsson gave the Rangers a power play at 12:11, but jumped out of the penalty box to grab a long Braydon Coburnpass and beat Lundqvist on a breakaway at 14:17 to make it 3-0.
“It was a lot of fun when I saw the puck come down to me,” said Gustafsson, playing his first game this postseason after being a healthy scratch in the first five games. “I think it took a fortunate bounce. I almost thought Lundqvist was going to get it but luckily the puck went in.”
Simmonds capped his hat trick with another power-play goal when he got to the net and tipped Jakub Voracek‘s shot past Lundqvist.
It was the first playoff hat trick by a Flyers player since Giroux and Sean Couturier had hat tricks in Game 2 of the Flyers’ 2012 first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Simmonds also is the first player to score a hat trick against Lundqvist in a playoff game. The last player with a postseason hat trick against the Rangers was John Madden of the New Jersey Devils against goalie Kevin Weekes in Game 2 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
“He was all over the puck,” Giroux said of Simmonds. “He was jumping everywhere. He was strong on the puck. When Wayne wants to win the battle he wins it. Kind of gives everybody in the room a little motivation to do the same.”
Up 4-0 after two periods the Flyers left it to Mason to preserve the win, and he was more than up to the challenge. After stopping all 13 shots he faced in the first and making a game-changing glove save on Benoit Pouliot during a New York power play with 6:23 left in the second, Mason was at his best in the third.
His best series of saves came with 10:33 left when he aggressively challenged John Moore from left side and shouldered away a hard chance, then jumped over to the opposite post to deny Pouliot on the doorstep. He also flashed a quick glove to deny Hagelin on a shorthanded breakaway with 9:27 remaining.
“It was impressive to see [Mason] play the way he played [in Game 6],” Giroux said. “He’s been doing it all year. For him to do it in Game 6 like this, it’s great. He was our leader [Tuesday]. The way he played, his attitude, it was great to watch him work hard.”
Mason said seeing so much action in the first period set him up for a big night.
“It’s always important to feel the puck early, I find,” Mason said. “If you’re getting big saves early on it’s something you can build off of toward the rest of the game. I was able to make a couple timely saves to start off the game and felt good for the rest of it. It was nice to be busy a little bit earlier in the game.”
The Rangers were left to lament their missed chances, including a power play that saw them muster one shot.
“We had a good start,” Vigneault said. “We had some good looks. Obviously didn’t score. They had a power play. We had an opportunity to ice the puck and we didn’t ice the puck and they made us pay for it. I thought we came out of there in pretty good shape. We picked a bad time to have a bad period there in the second.”
They won’t have much time to dwell on it, with Game 7 in less than 24 hours. They have the game in their building, where they’ve beaten the Flyers nine of their past 10 visits. The Rangers also are 5-0 all-time at Madison Square Garden in Game 7s.
“There’s nothing better than playing in those Game 7s when you’re a part of them,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “I think we have to forget about [Game 6] and put it behind us. We have to wake up [Wednesday and start fresh.”
That’s the same message the Flyers had. The Flyers went into the game focused on forcing Game 7. With that done, the next step is to win Game 7.
“We accomplished one goal,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said. “We’ve got to go and accomplish another one [Wednesday]. That’s how we’re looking at it. We talked about getting to that game and we’re there now. Have to prepare ourselves [Wednesday] to go win a game.”
(Photo: Associated Press)