Flyers-Rangers Series Preview

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

flyers-rangers1For the first time since 1997, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers will meet in the postseason. The I-95 Showdown begins on Thursday, with both teams holding aspirations of Stanley Cup glory. For Philadelphia, a series victory would mean ending a string of futility at Madison Square Garden, where the Flyers haven’t won since early-2011. The Rangers, meanwhile, were among the worst playoff teams at home this season, going just three games above .500 at the Garden.

The two teams split their four game season series, 2-2, with both teams winning their home games. For New York, success will be reliant on star goalie Henrik Lundqvist and his defensive corps. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi make up the top line of that group. New York’s success this season is based in large part on theirs, and the duo will likely see a steady dose of Claude Giroux and the Philadelphia first line for much of the series. That would require the Flyers to find scoring from their bottom-three lines. As the only team in the NHL with seven 20+ goal scorers, it’s certainly likely that someone else will step up for the Flyers.

Steve Mason was enjoying a bounce back campaign before he was injured in last weekend’s game against Pittsburgh. The goalie is rumored to have a concussion. Though, none of that has been substantiated by the team or the league. Craig Berube claims that Mason will start game one. If he does, the 25-year old will be searching for his first playoff win. If it is instead Ray Emery, the Flyers will have more experience. The former Senators and Blackhawks netminder has made two Stanley Cups during the course of his career (three if you count his non-roster appearance on the 2010 Flyers).

New Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault developed a reputation for playoff failure in Vancouver, so he will have those criticisms to overcome over the next month. His success in quickly turning the Rangers into an offensive force cannot be ignored. Despite lackluster campaigns from expensive veterans like Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Martin St. Louis, the Rangers still ranked near the top in goals scored in the Eastern Conference this season. New York’s bottom-six isn’t deep. But, they do their job soundly and might be the most consistent forward unit on the roster. Guys like Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, and Dan Carcillo make for a solid group of checking line forwards who can get under the skin of opposing teams.

Players to Watch:

Ryan McDonagh, Rangers – One of the finest young defensemen in the league, McDonagh was poached from Montreal years ago for Scott Gomez. It will likely go down in infamy in Canada. But, the Big Apple will always relish their chance to acquire the talented two-way blue liner. McDonagh is tops on the team amongst d-men in goals, points, power-play points, and plus/minus. He will be counted on, along with Dan Girardi, to stop Claude Giroux and the Flyers.

Claude Giroux, Flyers – After not scoring a goal in his first 15 games, Giroux exploded for the remainder of the season. The 26-year old went on a 1.5 point per game pace from December on, and finished his stunning renaissance with 86 points. Giroux has long been a playoff performer. In 50 lifetime postseason games, Giroux has 55 points.

Henrik Lundqvist – “King Henrik” may have the Vezina accolades. But, his 2014 season hasn’t exactly been his finest. The 32-year old Swedish netminder’s .920 save percentage, while good, is his lowest since 2008-09. Same with his 2.36 goals-against-average. Now, a lot of that has to do with Vigneault’s more aggressive offensive strategy. But, it also cannot be ignored that Lundqvist, for all his talent, has never made a Stanley Cup Final. The veteran has also lost in the first round more than any other since his career began.

Kimmo Timonen – Flyers fans know how important this Finnish defenseman is to their success. No one knows how much longer Timonen will be playing. But, everyone knows that the team couldn’t do without him right now. With a defensive unit that lacks a real high-end talent, Philadelphia relies heavily on the 39-year old. He plays every facet of the game, and will be required to hold the Rangers’ stars in check.

Prediction

It would be easy to go with my heart, and not my head, in this one. Philadelphia’s offensive depth is impressive on the surface. But, the Flyers have gone into deep offensive droughts at times. They’re also dealing with uncertainty between the pipes. Meanwhile, New York boasts one of the most deep defensive units in the league, and offense that is clicking at the right time, and one of the best goalies in the world to act as a last-line-of-defense.

The Flyers are going to win at least one game in New York, something they haven’t done in over three years. It’s certainly feasible, though unlikely. The Rangers are positioned just a little bit better to win the series. Still, the Flyers could move on assuming that Giroux puts together another spectacular postseason series, like he did two years ago against Pittsburgh. In the end, however, it’s the Rangers who will be moving on to face the Penguins, as they’ll overcome a slow start to advance past the first round.

New York in 7

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