There’s no greater excitement than that of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. If your team is rolling, life is fantastic. That’s a big “if”, though …
The Philadelphia Flyers hope they can get things rolling tonight when they visit the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Garden hasn’t been the kindest of places to the bullies, especially recently, but if the Flyers come out with the right focus and an adjustable game plan, they can steal a much-needed win. Here’s what they need to do.
First and foremost, they need to forget the curse of the Garden. They haven’t won in that building since Feb. 20, 2011. If the losing streak means anything, it means they’re long overdue for a win. They need to stick to the game plan, no matter how loud that place gets. But what is the game plan exactly, you ask?
Many would consider Henrik Lundqvist to be the best goalie in the Metropolitan Division this year. The Flyers have to break him, plain and simple. In 34 home games played this year, he posted a 2.13 GAA. There’s no telling what kind of a game he’ll have, though. This season, he went 8-3-2 in games where he faced 35 shots or more.
Then again, he went 0-3 and also had a no-decision in games where he faced 20 shots or less. If Philly can pick and choose their spots wisely, they’ll have no problem getting the puck past Lundqvist.
They also need to take advantage of a sloppy defense. Look, it’s no secret that the Flyers posses a lagging defense themselves, but the Rangers’ 2.32 goals given up per game this season is largely made up by the spectacular play of Lundqvist. The defenses are pretty much even, but if the Flyers can score early and take a lead after the first, they have a good chance to pick up a win. New York has a .318 win percentage when trailing after the first period.
Philadelphia must control the power play. Their 19.7 percent conversion rate on the power play was good enough for eighth this year. Philly also posted the best road power play in the entire league this year at 25.2 percent. A power play goal in a game like this is almost a gimme for Philadelphia.
Emotions will be running high. These two teams hate each other, so if Philly can control themselves, they should be okay. Getting forward Zac Rinaldo back couldn’t have come at a better time for the orange and black. Rinaldo has been one of the best in the league this year at drawing penalties.
Playing smart defense will be key as well. When they don’t make mistakes defensively, they win games. New York does struggle quite a bit on offense. The fact that Lundqvist virtually gave up only two goals a game this year at home but went only 16-14 proves that he doesn’t always get support.
Last but certainly not least, win the face-offs. These two teams are pretty much even in puck control, so possession is everything for this pivotal first game.
In a nutshell, Philly needs to play calm, well-balanced and controlling hockey. They aren’t going to beat the Rangers with intimidation or an avalanche of shots. They need to keep their endurance up, grind down the Rangers and be smarter. If that happens, Philly wins — hands down.