Since the New York Rangers were guaranteed to finish in at least second or third place in the Metropolitan Division, the question became, who would be the better matchup in the first round of the playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers or Columbus Blue Jackets?
The truth is, it didn’t matter. As it turns out, the Rangers will renew their long-standing rivalry with the Flyers in Round 1. And if you’re the Rangers, that’s okay.
Despite splitting the four-game regular season series 2-2, the Rangers match up very well against the a physical Flyers team. The Rangers’ defense is getting hot at the right time, and will be getting their best defenseman, Ryan McDonagh, back in Game 1 from injury.
Plus, they have a huge goaltending advantage with Henrik Lundqvist. Steve Mason was injured in the Flyers’ most recent contest, and his health, much less his availability, is very much in question leading up to the start of the series.
For the Rangers, the keys to beating the Flyers are very simple: rattle the goaltenders, whether it is Mason or Ray Emery, shut down the Flyers’ best player, Claude Giroux, and most importantly, get under the skin of the Flyers’ agitators, notably Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell.
Conversely, the Rangers must not let the Flyers’ bullying antics get under their skin. This is what guys like Simmonds and Hartnell will try to do from the drop of the first puck in game one on. As long as the Rangers maintain composure and don’t let the Flyers get under their skin, they will be able to play their game and dictate the action.
The key to this series will be special teams. The Flyers’ power play is one of the best in the league, and the Rangers’ penalty kill ranks among the top-five in the league. This goes back to the part about the Rangers maintaining composure. Should the Rangers give away stupid penalties at the wrong time, the Flyers’ power play will make them pay dearly. The Rangers have the penalty kill to neutralize it, but how much would be too much?
Should the Rangers be able to accomplish all of these things, they will handle their division rival and move to the next round. Expect a very physical, very chippy series, as to be expected with two teams that hate each other.
At the end of the day though, the Rangers are just slightly better.
Rangers in 6.