Jaroslav Halak, K'Andre Miller superb as Rangers beat Flyers for sixth win in a row
PHILADELPHIA — Even with the Flyers being second-to-last in the Eastern Conference, it couldn’t have been an easy call for coach Gerard Gallant to start backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak instead of Igor Shesterkin on Saturday night with the team riding a winning streak.
Not with Halak’s 1-6-1 record coming in.
But with the Rangers beginning a weekend back-to-back set against the Flyers before a game in Chicago on Sunday, Gallant figured he had to play Halak in one of them and opted to start him against Philadelphia. It worked out as Halak played well and the Rangers beat the Flyers, 6-3, for their sixth win in a row.
“When you win five, six in a row as a team, I think you can see the confidence is higher than when you’re on a different streak, a losing streak,’’ said Halak, who made 29 saves. “Obviously, the plays are being made out there and they worked out tonight. It was a big two points, a big road win, and we’ve got a few more games coming, three more games before the [Christmas] break, and we need to finish strong.’’
Entering the game, the Rangers had scored only 12 goals in Halak’s eight starts. They gave him plenty of offensive support this time, including empty-net goals by Jacob Trouba and Kaapo Kakko that broke open a 4-3 game.
Jimmy Vesey’s third goal in the last two games, which gave the Rangers a 4-2 lead at 6:22 of the third period, ended up being the game-winning goal. Barclay Goodrow, playing up on the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, had a goal and an assist. But it was the goal by defenseman K’Andre Miller that had everyone talking after the game.
Miller’s goal at 9:09 of the second period, which gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead, was a Goal of the Year candidate destined to make all of the sports highlight shows. He had just exited the penalty box after serving a cross-checking penalty and was able to chip the puck out of the Rangers’ zone to send himself on a breakaway when Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim tripped him from behind.
The referee’s arm went up immediately, signaling a penalty. But Miller got right back up on his skates, kept driving to the net and tucked a forehand shot around Philadelphia goalie Carter Hart for his second goal of the season.
“I don’t know, I felt like I was moving as fast as I ever have,’’ Miller said. “It was kind of a blur, I kind of blacked out for a little bit there. And next thing I knew . . . I was [celebrating] and trying to watch it again.’’
Miller said he momentarily considered staying down on the ice after he was tripped. “For sure thought about it,’’ he said. “The split-second I had, I assumed I would have a penalty shot there [when] I saw it out of the corner of my eye, his arm went up. But I tried to just stick with the play and finish the play out.’’
Goodrow, who had set up Panarin’s goal that tied it at 1-1 in the first period, scored on a backhander off a feed from Zibanejad to make it 3-1 at 12:14 of the second period. At that point, the Rangers looked as if they might cruise to an easy victory.
Chris Kreider nearly scored on a breakaway with 2:23 remaining in the period, but after checking the video replay, the officials ruled the puck hadn’t completely crossed the goal line. The Rangers were given a power play on the play but not a goal. Soon after, they allowed a shorthanded goal by Scott Laughton that made it 3-2 at 17:52.
Vesey’s goal gave the Rangers a 4-2 lead, but Morgan Frost pulled the Flyers within 4-3 before the Rangers got a shorthanded empty-net goal from Trouba with 2:08 remaining, his first goal of the season. Kakko was credited with an empty-net goal with less than a minute left.