Wayne Simmonds,  Brian Boyle

Rangers continue MSG dominance of Flyers, win fifth in a row


If the playoffs began tonight, the New York Rangers would have home-ice advantage against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2014 postseason. The simplest numbers would argue that would be bad news for the Flyers.

With Wednesday’s 3-1 win, the Rangers now hold an eight-game winning streak against the Flyers at Madison Square Garden. The NBCSN telecast points out that Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in that specific span, which is hard to fathom for a superstar who ranks as one of the hottest players in the league (especially lately).

Return of the King

It’s probably unfair to boil it all down to goalies (particularly considering the fact that Steve Mason just saw a four-game winning streak end and has generally been strong since February), but those who do will point out a much stronger night for Henrik Lundqvist. The Swede seems to be finding his game, with the greatest evidence being that he held off the Flyers in the first period despite Philly’s 15 opening-frame shots.

Especially unfair folks will milk a goal Mason would like to have back:

Road ahead

That victory gives the Rangers a five-game winning streak and a three-point lead over the Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division, although it’s far from settled since Philly holds two games in hand.

Those remaining 10 contests could prove challenging, however. Philly could very well slip back into the wild card fray, as a Friday home game against Toronto holds serious weight. After that, it’s a Sunday home game against Boston (on NBC) followed by a road-heavy April schedule.

The Rangers are red-hot and face an interesting closing stretch. While they play four in a row on the road beginning on Friday, it starts with two cellar dwellers (Calgary and Edmonton) before Alain Vigneault returns to Vancouver on April Fool’s Day (just wait for the jokes there) and then an interesting road test against Colorado. If the Rangers can stay hot there, it could be a lucrative finish to the season, as they face three teams outside of the playoff picture at home and then finish the season on the road against Montreal.

Long story short, this win is helpful for the Rangers and irritating for Philly – especially if you take it as an omen – yet both teams still have plenty of work to do.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.