With 5-3 win in Philly, Rangers clinch top spot in East

Rangers' Ryan McDonagh, left, sends Philadelphia Flyers' Scott

Rangers' Ryan McDonagh, left, sends Philadelphia Flyers' Scott Hartnell to the ice with a check during the third period. (April 3, 2012) (Credit: AP)

PHILADELPHIA---His right forearm was stiff and wrapped in ice from a diving block of Claude Giroux’s one-timer at the end of the second period, and Henrik Lundqvist confessed: “I wasn’t sure if I was going to play in the third, it was hard to hold onto the stick.”

But Lundqvist emerged from the locker room after the second intermission and with the Rangers leading the Flyers 5-2, just 20 minutes away from clinching the top spot in the Eastern Conference, stopping 13 of 14 Flyers shots in the final period for his career-high 39th win. And after the 5-3 victory---which began with a four-goal burst in the first period---the Rangers have 109 points, their most since the 1993-94 Stanley Cup championship season. Naturally, they were proud of their achievement.

“It feels great that you’re No. 1,” Lundqvist said, “It’s a great accomplishment. It means we’ve done a lot of good things this year. But the playoffs are going to be a battle. They’re all good teams. If we face them (the Flyers) again, it’s not going to be easy.”

With the win, the Rangers secured home-ice advantage through the Conference finals after never having any type of edge at Madison Square Garden since 1996. Their first-round opponent (the possibilities include Washington, Buffalo and Florida) has not been determined.

“Your first goal is to get in,” said coach John Tortorella, who described Lundqvist as “the most confident I’ve seen in weeks” and spoke about the goals set at the beginning of the season. “We wanted to get away from being that seventh-eighth-ninth team; we kept on pushing and you find yourself in a situation where we’re being chased since December. And we had a dip in March and you didn’t think Pittsburgh was going to lose another game. I’m happy we rebounded after we lost some of the lead. They can lean on that.”

On a night when the Rangers needed a single point, it was the Flyers, who had lost all five games this season against the Blueshirts, who stormed out of the gate. “Hank made some big saves in first that really turned it around,” said Dan Girardi, who played 26:27 and 7:34 shorthanded as the Rangers, who led 4-0 after the first period, killed seven of eight power plays. On the offensive end, the Rangers scored three power play goals against Ilya Bryzgalov, who had missed three games with a chip fracture of his ankle.

From behind the net, Marian Gaborik found Ryan McDonagh sneaking in from the left point for a 1-0 lead at 6:25; Brian Boyle backhanded McDonagh’s rebound and the Rangers added two power-play goals in 36 seconds. Artem Anisimov skated through two defenders, and was hooked by Marc-Andre Bourdon, but deked Bryzgalov to make it 3-0, and immediately was high-sticked by Pavel Kubina. Ryan Callahan, alone in front, tucked in the fourth at 18:38 to set the stage for the first season sweep of the Flyers since the 1971-72 season.

The Rangers have two games remaining, in Pittsburgh Thursday and at home against Washington on Saturday, and a chance to reach 52 wins, which would tie the franchise record, and have a shot at the Presidents’ Trophy for most points in the league. “It’s nice to get that feather in our cap,” said Marc Staal about the No. 1 seed. “Guys have worked hard all year. But there’s more to come.”

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