The New York Rangers will open up their first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday against the rival Philadelphia Flyers. They’ll be doing it inside the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. New York has actually played much better on the road this season, but when it comes to playing Philly, the blueshirts have dominated on home ice.
The Flyers have lost their last eight games in the World’s Most Famous Arena and haven’t beaten New York on the road since Feb. 20 2011. That’s quite the drought, especially considering how often these two teams link up.
With Game’s 1 and 2 at MSG, the Rangers have a chance to jump ahead in the series and get Philly on their heels. The Flyers were mediocre on the road this season with a record of 18-16-7 away from home. The kicker in this situation is that if New York can ride their hot home streak against Philly into a 2-0 series lead, they can be confident that they have played extremely well on the road this season.
There’s the old playoff saying that a team isn’t in trouble until they lose on home ice, but that’s not necessarily true for the Flyers this postseason. They need to steal one of the first two games at MSG. The Rangers had the best road record in the Eastern Conference this year and collected 52 points on the road, which was the most in the NHL.
The home-ice advantage for New York could prove to be a huge difference-maker because both teams have similar numbers against one another this season. They split their four games in which the home team won every time. They both scored two power play goals against each other and averaged about the same number of shots. The Rangers outshot Philly 130-127. With balanced statistics like that, home ice could be the key that tips the scale in favor of New York.
These two teams are used to playing intense, close games and you can usually throw the records out the window when they meet, but the Rangers’ dominance at home against the Flyers is still a factor entering the series. Over three years without a win in a specific building can mess with a team’s confidence. Philadelphia won’t be lacking in that department, but they need to find a way to break the cycle of coming up short in the Big Apple.
In order to accomplish that, Philadelphia has to get shots to the net with traffic in front and also need to create rebounds against Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. When “Hank” sees the puck cleanly, it’s probably not getting past him. The Flyers need to rely on Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell to make plays, and scoring a few power play goals wouldn’t hurt either.
As for the Rangers, they have to use their puck possession to their advantage while establishing a pesky forecheck when they don’t have the puck. The Flyers are playing very well entering the postseason, but one of their weaknesses has been giving up costly turnovers that end up in the back of the net. A strong New York forecheck will be the key to forcing turnovers in the Flyers’ zone.