Marian Gaborik and Ryan McDonagh each scored a goal and recorded two points and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 37 shots to lead the New York Rangers to a six-game season series sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers and clinch the Atlantic and Eastern Division titles with a 5-3 thumping of the Orange-and-Black at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday night. Coincidentally, it is the first time New York has finished at the top of the Atlantic Division and Eastern conference since the 1993-94 campaign -- the last time they won the Stanley Cup.
It was the first time the Flyers have been swept in regulation in a six-game regular-season series since the Rangers won all six games between the teams some 40 years ago during the 1971-72 season. They have also won the last eight meetings dating back to the 2010-11 season, and have outscored the Flyers by a 34-13 count during the stretch.
The victory was the seventh in the last nine contests for the Rangers, and win number 51 for the season. Their win total and 109 points are NHL highs as they continue their quest for the Presidents' Trophy as the League's top team.
The Broadway Blueshirts know what they have to do moving forward.
"We just have to stay focused, and we have to be ready for playoff hockey," said captain Ryan Callahan after the game.
New York jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the first period on goals by McDonagh and Brian Boyle, then doubled the margin with two power play goals by Artem Anisimov and Callahan within a 35-second span when Marc-Andre Bourdon (hooking minor) and Pavel Kubina (four-minute double-minor for high-sticking) took penalties late in the opening frame.
When all was said and done, New York had scored on three of their six man advantage opportunities, while Philadelphia managed just one goal in eight power play chances.
Flyers' goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov -- in his first game back from a bone chip fracture suffered last week -- was able to stop just seven of the 11 shots he faced in the first. March's NHL First Star of the month ended the evening with 19 saves on 24 Ranger shots.
As they have done so many times in recent games, Philadelphia dug themselves an early hole -- giving up the first goal for the 19th time in the last 26 games. They had been able to get themselves up off the mat in many of those with a tremendous resiliency, but the Rangers' 4-0 lead after the first period proved to be too much.
The Flyers got back to within 4-1 at the 12:55 mark of the middle stanza, but Gaborik notched a power play goal from the slot with 51 seconds remaining in the second period. It was Gaborik's team-leading 41st goal of the year.
Wayne Simmonds, who was named the NHL's First Star for last week, continued his hot hand late in the frame. The Philly winger scored a goal in his fifth consecutive game (six goals) for his 28th of the season with seven seconds remaining to make it a 5-2 contest at the second intermission.
Philadelphia scored the only goal of the third, a mid-period deflection by Scott Hartnell on an Andreas Lilja shot to set the 5-3 final. It was Hartnell's 37th goal of the year, the most in a season by a Flyer since Jeff Carter tallied 46 in 2008-09.
Despite the Rangers early big lead, the Flyers did have their chances to get back in the game. Lundqvist came up with several incredible saves; a right-pad stop on Zac Rinaldo, one on a Jaromir Jagr redirection in front that the netminder followed as it bounced high over his right shoulder, swatting it away with his blocker and batting it over the crossbar, and this lightning-quick, glove-handed gem on Simmonds with the game still just 1-0.
Lundqvist had some difficulty in the third period after making a diving save earlier.
"Yeah, that one hurt," he said. "I was struggling all third period. I told Martin (Biron) to be ready just in case I couldn't go. A couple of times I was out of here. I can't really hold a stick. It was tough in the third."
He did stay in and ended up setting a new career-high with his 39th victory of the season.
"He was unbelievable," said Rangers' head coach John Tortorella of his netminder. "Not particularly in the first, throughout the game. It's a game, you know, we win it, but it's hard. When you go up 4-0, it's hard to try to keep yourself going and to try to keep the momentum your way. Philly has done it all year long in getting down and then storming back."
Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen agreed.
"We had a lot of scoring chances," Timonen said. "He played well, as usual, against us."
Jakub Voracek scored the other Flyers' goal, and Claude Giroux picked up three assists in a losing cause for Philly, his second straight three-point effort. Giroux now has 92 points on the season, the most by any Flyer since Eric Lindros recorded 93 during the 1998-99 campaign.