Rangers' defense will test the Flyers

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Woods)
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Woods)
Posted: April 15, 2014

If the regular season is a barometer, the Flyers and New York Rangers will have a tight-checking, low-scoring series when they meet in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Amtrak series starts with games Thursday and Easter Sunday in New York.

The Rangers have the stronger defense, the Flyers have the better attack.

"We don't have to worry as much about them as ourselves," Flyers winger Matt Read said after scoring his 22d goal in a season-ending 6-5 shootout loss to Carolina on Sunday. "We've got to find our game, play our defensive game first, and the offense will come for us. I think if we play our best hockey, we will take control of the series."

The Flyers haven't won in New York since 2011, losing eight straight in the city that doesn't sleep.

"We've got to go into Madison Square Garden on our toes and ready to play the first five minutes and take the momentum away," Read said. "Like I said before, it's up to us. It's hard to prepare for a game in probably one of the best arenas in the world, and it's something we need to get together in the locker room and find a way to come out in the first five minutes and get the momentum right away."

In splitting their goalie-dominated four-game series, the teams combined for just 18 goals - eight by the Flyers, 10 by New York.

Flyers goalie Steve Mason and his Rangers counterpart, Henrik Lundqvist, were dominant in the series and had almost identical numbers.

Mason, who suffered an unspecified injury Saturday but is expected to play in Thursday's opener, went 2-1 with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage against the Rangers this season. Lundqvist was 2-1 with a 2.03 GAA and a .940 save percentage against the Flyers.

The game plan, captain Claude Giroux said, is to play like a "complete team. Play the right way. Play the same way we've been playing this year when we were successful. That's making sure that everybody is responsible defensively and everybody is accountable for themselves."

The teams were separated by just two points - the Rangers had 96, the Flyers 94 - and the head-to-head matchup, as demonstrated by the goalies' numbers, was just as close.

In addition, the special teams were almost identical. The Flyers' power play went 2 for 13 against the Rangers, while New York was 2 for 14. The Flyers killed 10 of 12 penalties, the Rangers killed 11 of 13.

The Rangers' top line - Derek Stepan (17 goals) centering Rick Nash (26) and Martin St. Louis (30) - figures to be matched with Sean Couturier's talented checking unit, especially when the series returns to the Wells Fargo Center for Game 3 and the Flyers have the last line change.

The Rangers don't have a dominating attack, but they have three well-balanced lines.

"If we turn pucks over, they have the power to go the other way and put pucks in the back of the net," winger Wayne Simmonds said. "We have to be smart in the neutral zones and make sure we're tracking back."

Led by Simmonds (29 goals) and Giroux (28), the Flyers have seven 20-goal scorers - and more firepower than the Rangers, who get the edge on defense, primarily because Ryan McDonagh has emerged as an outstanding defender and, along with Dan Girardi, give New York a formidable pairing.

Make way, Miley

The Flyers and Rangers will play Game 3 on April 22, so the Miley Cyrus concert scheduled for that date at the Wells Fargo Center has been moved to April 21. Tickets will be honored on the new date.



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