PHILADELPHIA — Keith Yandle was ready for Showtime Saturday afternoon, or was it his Showcase?
The Rangers’ offensive-minded defenseman blasted a game-tying slap shot top shelf with 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation to supercharge a 3-2 shootout win over the host Flyers. Yandle made the best of his season-high 27:59 of ice time in the absence of injured captain Ryan McDonagh, who left 10:36 into the match with a likely concussion after Philly forward Wayne Simmonds sucker-punched him in the head.
“Trucker goes down, especially as a left defenseman, I’ve got to be ready to play more minutes,” Yandle said, referring to McDonagh’s ‘MacTruck’ nickname. “That’s something I thrive on. I want to do it. Our emotions were high (early) but then we settled down and got ready to play hockey. We knew the best way to help Trucker’s spirits out was to get a win.”
Yandle leads the team with 24 assists despite just four goals. He is an extremely popular player in the Rangers’ locker room. He wore the Broadway Hat after eclipsing his season-high in ice time by far (23:33 the previous high on Jan. 19), and he shows flashes of a nasty streak on the back end.
But he is also GM Jeff Gorton’s most attractive trade bait to dangle prior to the Feb. 29 NHL deadline.
Yandle will be an expensive unrestricted free agent on July 1, and Gorton can’t afford to lose Yandle for nothing on the open market after Glen Sather traded Anthony Duclair, John Moore, a first-round pick and a second-rounder to Arizona for Yandle at last spring’s deadline.
Alain Vigneault also doesn’t feature Yandle in a major way on special teams or even strength anyway.
A perfect example of why: Yandle’s mistake-riddled first period before he thrived in the third period and in overtime, when the Rangers cheated offensively and the Flyers packed it in.
The focus after this game, though, was on McDonagh. Gorton, Vigneault and associate coach Scott Arniel all were seen walking back to the trainers’ room to check on their captain. McDonagh eventually walked out of Wells Fargo Center under his own power, but Vigneault would not provide an update other than saying McDonagh had been held out for “precautionary” reasons.
The second-place Rangers (29-18-5, 63), who went to the shootout for the third time in four meetings with the seventh-place Flyers (23-18-9, 55 points), were still fuming about Simmonds’ punch.
“That doesn’t happen,” alternate captain Marc Staal said. “They’re in a scrum, they’re pushing each other. It was a cheap shot and there’s no place for it. So there were obviously a lot of emotions going through our bench when we saw our leader get hit like that.”
McDonagh had tried to protect himself from a Simmonds hit when he cross-checked Simmonds in the back of the helmet and then slashed him, earning a double-minor penalty. Simmonds, though, reacted by clocking McDonagh in the right cheek with his gloved left-hand, dropping him in a heap onto the ice and earning a five-minute major and a match penalty.
Matt Read of the Flyers and Oscar Lindberg are unlikely combatants in Saturday’s game.
The Rangers responded by improving to 2-1-1 in four meetings with the Flyers despite injured top-line left wing Rick Nash (left leg bone bruise) not making the trip. Right wing Mats Zuccarello (assist) scored the shootout winner on Flyers goalie Steve Mason (26 saves), just as he had in a 3-2 win here on Jan. 16. Derek Stepan then sealed the shootout after Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves) had stopped Claude Giroux.
The Flyers had led, 1-0, entering the third period on a Shayne Gostibehere power play goal at 7:16 of a second period that Philly dominated, outshooting the Rangers 20-8. Chris Kreider tipped in the game-tying goal off assists from Dan Girardi and Zuccarello at 3:16 of the third period, only to see Flyers forward Ryan White deposit Philly’s only shot of the entire third period past Lundqvist short side at 5:46 after a Zuccarello neutral-zone giveaway.
Yandle, though, hammered home the set-up from Jesper Fast and Dan Boyle with Lundqvist pulled for the extra attacker to send the game to OT. The question now? How long New York will remain Yandle’s home.
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