NEW YORK -- The final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference won't be decided until Sunday afternoon. The New York Rangers made sure of that with a 4-3 win Friday night against the Philadelphia Flyers in what felt like a postseason game at Madison Square Garden.
Marian Gaborik had the game-winning goal and a beauty of an assist for the Rangers, who were facing elimination from the playoff race with a regulation loss. Brandon Dubinsky, Jody Shelley -- yes, Jody Shelley -- and Chris Drury also scored for New York.
"It's a playoff game, plain and simple," Dubinsky said. "It's Game 81, they need to find a way to get a win to get into the playoffs and we need to find a way to get a win to get into the playoffs too. In essence, it's a Game 7. It's like a play-in game, like you're in the NCAA Tournament and you're trying to get one of those top 16 seeds. It was definitely a playoff atmosphere and we expect no different for Sunday, and we'll be ready."
The outcome of Friday's game changes nothing for the Flyers -- if they win the rematch against the Rangers on Sunday at the Wachovia Center, they are in the playoffs.
The Rangers have a few ways to reach the postseason. They will clinch a playoff spot with a regulation win against the Flyers on Sunday. The Rangers can also clinch with an overtime or shootout loss coupled with two regulation losses by the Boston Bruins, who host Carolina on Saturday and visit Washington on Sunday.
Depending on what happens before Sunday's season finale (3 ET, NHLN-US), it could be a play-in game for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We have a chance to cinch up a playoff spot at home," said Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, whose turnover led to Gaborik's deciding goal in the second period.
"We are loose. I think the pressure is on them," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We fight, we win another game. It gives us an opportunity in Game 82."
The opening minute of the game could not have gone any better for the Flyers. Mike Richards, who was the game's second star after scoring two goals, intercepted a pass from defenseman Marc Staal at the top of the Rangers zone. The Flyers' captain converted the short breakaway to put his team on top 1-0 only 40 seconds into the first period.
On the ensuing faceoff, Rangers forward Aaron Voros got his stick up on Flyers enforcer Daniel Carcillo and went to the penalty box. The Flyers had a golden opportunity to take a 2-0 lead before the echo of the national anthem faded from the building, but the Rangers killed off the penalty.
Not long after, Carcillo took a double minor for high sticking at 5:46 when he drew blood on Rangers forward Brandon Prust -- and it proved costly. Drury slammed home the tying goal during the first half of the double-minor off a gorgeous pass from Erik Christensen that found its way through three sets of Flyers skates.
What had the looks of a Flyers runaway was suddenly a game the Rangers controlled.
"I think it is a confidence," Tortorella said of not folding under the early pressure. "We have of late come back a number of times. I just don't think our guys … you're at the end of the line here, so we just let it all hang out. It may sound funny, you may think it adds more pressure but it shouldn't. It changes you mindset. I think the guys have really grabbed a hold of that."
The Rangers grabbed the lead less than three minutes after Drury's goal thanks to a goal from an unlikely source. Shelley, who entered the game with 14 career goals and 155 fighting majors, scored his first as a Ranger off an offensive-zone faceoff that had the look of a set play.
But Shelley said afterward there was nothing planned about it.
"There was no play. It just worked out I ended up there with the puck," he said. "It was great, unbelievable. To score a goal at home, in front of these fans, it's pretty exciting."
Dubinsky increased the lead to 3-1 at 6:58 of the second period off a wonderful pass against the grain by Gaborik, who exploded past Flyers defenseman Matt Carle before dipping behind the net and leaving the puck behind for Dubinsky, who scored his 20th goal of the season, a career high.
The Flyers put the Garden party on hold. Danny Briere's one-timer from the top of the circle and Richards' second breakaway goal of the night, although it ricocheted off the skate of Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival, even the score at 3-3 with less than six minutes remaining in the second period.
But Gaborik gave the Rangers the lead for good 2:13 after the Flyers tied it, capitalizing on a Pronger turnover and flipping a shot over goaltender Brian Boucher's catching glove. The sniper's 42nd goal of the season was aided by a slight deflection off Carle's stick.
"When he shot, it went off Matty Carle's stick and changed direction enough to fool me, so tough break," Boucher said.
Late in the third period, with the Rangers clinging to a one-goal lead, Shelley nearly went from one of the heroes to a goat.
Boucher came out to the play the puck with virtually no pressure. He tried to direct the puck behind his net, but instead pushed it off his goal post and right to Shelley, who was robbed by a diving Boucher. If Shelley had just lifted the puck, the game would've been virtually over.
"It was like an old childhood nightmare," Shelley said. "I'm just so happy we didn't need it. I couldn't believe that he gave it to me. But I'm glad we don't have to talk about it."
Luckily for Shelley, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made the one-goal lead stand up by stopping all 10 shots he faced in the third period. His biggest save came on rookie James van Riemsdyk, who was robbed by Lundqvist's left pad when it looked for sure that the game was about to be tied.
It sets the stage for Sunday's potential winner-take-all battle in Philadelphia -- one the Rangers might have to play without forward Ryan Callahan. The 19-goal scorer left the game in the second period after colliding with Pronger and did not return.
"We haven't accomplished anything yet," cautioned Dubinsky. "We haven't accomplished anything until we find ourselves on Sunday night in that top 8."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter at: @DLozoNHL
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