2014 NHL Playoffs: New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers Preview
The New York Rangers and their greatest rival, the Philadelphia Flyers, will meet up in a playoff series for the first time since 1997. This rivalry is as heated as they come. Both teams hate each other and they will be looking to eliminate their greatest rival from the sport’s greatest spectacle.
The Flyers sport the deeper offense. They have seven players with more than 20 goals. Wayne Simmonds leads them with 29 goals on the year. The catalyst for the Flyers is their captain, Claude Giroux. After a horrid start to this year, Giroux stepped up his game and finished the season with 86 points. The Flyers also have talented young players like Jakub Voracek, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn to mix in with veterans like Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Vincent Lecavalier. The Flyers are also more physical than their counterparts.
The Rangers’ offense is nowhere near as potent as the Flyers. The Rangers only have two players with 20 goals or more in Brad Richards and Rick Nash. The Rangers acquired Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline to give them a proven finisher and playmaker to help the offense. Players like Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot have played phenomenally, with all three having career years. The Rangers’ forwards are quick with players like Carl Hagelin and the injured Chris Kreider. They must use their speed to their advantage.
The defense for the Rangers is a clear advantage. Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal make up one of the best trios on the back end in the NHL. They also have depth on the blue line with Anton Stralman, Kevin Klein, John Moore and Raphael Diaz.
The Flyers’ defense isn’t on the same level that the Rangers’ defense is on, but they still have talented players on their blue line. Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossman are two physical presences. Mark Streit and Kimmo Timonen are past their prime, but both still find ways to get the job done. A late-season addition of Andrew MacDonald has bolstered the Flyers’ defense.
The goaltending is clearly in the Rangers’ favor. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best in the game and has proven himself in the playoffs before. This season, it looks like he will have some offensive help, but he will still need to be marvelous for the Rangers to win.
The Flyers have a very capable goalie in Steve Mason, but he isn’t Lundqvist. Mason has only played in four playoff games and isn’t very battle-tested. He is having his best season in the NHL but will need to out duel Lundqvist if the Flyers want a chance to win.
Both teams have great special teams. The Flyers are seventh and eighth in the NHL in power play and penalty kill percentages respectively. The Rangers are 15th and and third in the power play and penalty kill respectively. They both have to be at the top of their games to beat the other.
Both teams also feature coaches in their first season as head coaches with the franchises. Alain Vigneault and Craig Berube both righted the ship after miserable starts. Berube took over for Peter Laviolette early in the year and has brought more of a defensive mind to the Flyers. They still score in bunches, but they play tighter in their own zone. Vigneault has brought a puck possession style to the Rangers, but they still play solid defense.
The home advantage can be huge for the Rangers. The Flyers haven’t won at Madison Square Garden since 2011. The teams split their season series 2-2, with each team winning their two home games. This series is going to be physical and intense. Both teams have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations and will have to beat their biggest rival to get there. The series gets underway on Thursday at 7 P.M. eastern time.