By Andrew Porter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It was his third career NHL hockey game and first career Stanley Cup playoff game. It was in Madison Square Garden against the rivaled New York Rangers, an “original six” team. He is 23 years old. The pressure was enormous.
Jason Akeson jumped onto the ice early in the first period and got going right away. He was involved, he was skating hard, and he looked good playing alongside line-mates Matt Read and Sean Couturier. He had a big scoring chance later in the first period, but was stoned by Henrik Lundqvist. Akeson finished the game with three shots on goal (three more than Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Vincent Lecavalier combined),three hits, and a blocked shot. He played 13:07 including time on the second power play unit.
“Ake”, as they call him, fit in with the big boys. He belonged. Unfortunately, none of that will be remembered.
With 7:35 left in the 1-1 game, Akeson was aggressively back-checking Rangers forward, Carl Hagelin, who had control of the puck along the boards in the neutral zone. Akeson went to hit Hagelin at center ice along the far boards, but his back leg awkwardly came up, as he did his stick, and he lost control striking Hagelin in the face (watch play here).
Blood. Four minutes.
The Rangers went on to score, not once, but twice on Akeson’s double-minor, en route to a 4-1 game one win over the Flyers and that’s what will be remembered of Akeson’s playoff debut with the Flyers.
Like a seasoned veteran, Akeson stood up to reporters and answered questions post-game, including, “What was going through your mind as you watched the Rangers’ score the two quick goals?”
“Nothing good, that’s for sure,” he replied. “Obviously I didn’t mean to do it,” Akenson went on to say. “I’ve just got to move on from here.”
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who scored the only Flyers goal, defended his new teammate.
“I hope he doesn’t feel too bad about it. Those kinds of things happen,” MacDonald said of Akeson’s penalty. “He was making a good back-check, and his stick just happened to come up.”
Mentally, it will be tough for Akeson to rebound from Thursday night’s loss, as he probably feels he let his team down. In actuality, he didn’t. While the penalty was obviously costly, in only his third NHL game, Akeson was one of the Flyers best forwards. The only way he’ll get over it, and who knows if Craig Berube will be confident enough to put him back into the lineup, is by coming back and having a productive game on Sunday in game two.
If I was Berube I would play Akeson without hesitation. You have to trust your players and allow them to learn from their mistakes. Who knows, maybe Akeson will score the game-winner. I’ll be rooting for that.