The Flyers and Rangers will face off for the 11th time in postseason play when the puck drops in Madison Square Garden Thursday night. Credit: Getty Images
Ever since Dave Schultz hammered Dale Rolfe into submission in Game 7 of the 1974 Stanley Cup semifinals — on the Broad Street Bullies' way to their first Cup — the Flyers and Rangers have seldom had much affection for each other.
Perhaps it’s the proximity of the two biggest cities in the East, or the air of superiority that seems to emanate from the Big Apple, but whenever these two square off the intensity seems to rise. That’s especially true in the post-season, which has happened 10 times, the Flyers holding a 6-4 advantage.
Meeting No. 11, their first playoff encounter since Eric Lindros and 1997 Flyers took the Broadway Blueshirts out in five, gets underway Thursday at the so-called "World’s Most Famous Arena." That, of course, would be Madison Square Garden, where the Flyers have gone winless their last eight visits, being outscored 31-9 in the process.
But now that they’re in the playoffs and have a few days to study up on Rangers star goalie Henrik Lundqvist. And they’re confident they can change recent history. Then again, what would you expect them to say?
"Lundqvist is a good goalie," said Flyers leading goal scorer Wayne Simmonds (29), "To get pucks past him you’re going to have to take away his eyes and keep peppering him and peppering him. We’re going to try to not let him be a factor in the series, but we also have to go about our business and worry about ourselves."
While beating Lundqvist certainly is the priority, the fact is the Rangers don’t present nearly the same offensive firepower as the other two teams the Flyers could’ve drawn, the Penguins and Bruins. While the Flyers boast seven 20-goal scorers, the Rangers have only two, Rick Nash (26) and Brad Richards (20).
They do, however, have seven others, who’ve scored 14 or more and can be dangerous on the power play, making staying out of the box critical. Plus, they have Vinny Lecavalier’s old sidekick, Martin St Louis, who’s struggled fitting in on Broadway since coming over at the trade deadline.
What makes the Rangers so effective, though, especially when they play the Flyers is their defense, checking and especially shot-blocking. Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are masters at disrupting what appear to be scoring threats. And when pucks do make it through there’s always Lundqvist looming as last resort.
Once they get the lead — which generally has been the case at the Garden, where the Flyers have held the lead for only a 2:12 span in their last eight visits — they’re generally even stingier. In contrast it becomes a different game when the Flyers strike first.
The trick now is making that happen to avoid digging that hole.
"They’re obviously a really good team," said defenseman Kimmon Timonen, voted to his fifth Barry Ashbee Trophy in Sunday’s 6-5 shootout loss to Carolina as the Flyers’ top defenseman. "No question about it, they’re going to be favored. We go in there and have to play a smart road game. Not turn the puck over. The last few games we’ve played there, we turned the puck over too many times They’re really quick when you do that and they’re going to score. Obviously we know it will be a tough place to play and they’re a tough team to play against but I’m really confident about our team."
There’s reason for that. Other than a late season stumble that saw the team go 0-2-2, the Flyers have been a pretty solid team since getting off to that 1-7 start that saw Craig Berube replace Peter Laviolette. And remember, no more shootouts should it go to overtime. You play till somebody scores.
While this will be Berube’s first post-season in the NHL, he does have AHL experience, not to mention a half dozen years as No. 2 man on the bench.
"They play a fast game, they're an attack team and they have three balanced lines that can score," said Berube, who expects to have Steve Mason — sidelined Saturday by a hit from Pittsburgh’s Jason Megna that left him woozy — back for Game 1. "They try to forecheck hard and their defense is aggressive. But I think it’s important for us to focus on our game and not be worrying about the Rangers too much. Worry about what we do and how we play. We want to be a complete team. Play the same way we’ve been playing this year when we were successful. That’s making sure that everybody is responsible defensively and accountable for themselves."
Getting plenty of traffic in front of Lundqvist wouldn’t hurt either, since the Flyers know if they don’t win at least once in their personal Garden of horrors they won’t be moving on.
And if all else fails, maybe they can take a cue from “The Hammer” and try to beat on the Rangers. After all, it’s worked before.