May 23rd, 1997. That was the second-to-last Flyers/Rangers playoff game — side note: it was also Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier’s second-to-last playoff game — until Thursday.
Metropolitan Division Semifinal New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Game 1: Thursday in New York at 7pm EDT (CNBC, CSN Philly)
Game 2: Sunday in New York at Noon EDT (NBC)
Game 3: Tuesday in Philadelphia at 8pm (CNBC, CSN Philly)
Game 4: Friday, April 25th in Philadelphia at 7pm (CNBC, CSN Philly)
Game 5: Sunday, April 27th in New York at Noon (NBC)
Game 6: Tuesday, April 29th in Philadelphia (Time/TV TBD)
Game 7: Wednesday, April 30th in New York (Time/TV TBD)
The preview I promised you yesterday is here
Remember the last time the Flyers missed the playoffs in 2007? The next season their slogan was “back with a vengeance.” That team made the Eastern Conference Finals knocking off the Caps when Ovi had a better team around him and the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens before falling to the Penguins. Everyone doubted them, and everyone doubts this team.
The Flyers started off the season cold than the ice they skate on: 1-7. They fired Lavs and appointed Craig Berube to coach a team that seemed to be doomed. People were calling for Paul Holmgrem’s (Flyers GM) head. He traded “away” Richards and Carter and they went on to win a Cup and “left the team” with Claude Giroux wearing the “C.” Once the month of October ended, the Flyers proved to the world they were fed up with this losing concept and those Capitals felt that rage:
That sparked the team back into the winning habit. Captain Claude started scoring (he was scoreless until the middle of November) and finished the season as the Flyers’ leading goal scorer. The Flyers were the only team in the NHL to have at least six scorers with 20+ goals, they had seven. The team took a page from Chip Kelly and learned the spread offense. Offense wasn’t all that carried the Flyers, they were tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference in goals scored; it was great goaltending from the tandem of Steve Mason (currently injured; out for Game 1, no status for Game 2 yet) and Ray Emery (above) that shined all season, even when the offense was abysmal.
The one piece that was missing for most of the season was defense. The Flyers’ blue liners seemed to be all over the place and something was missing. The answer came from a trade deadline deal that brought over Andrew MacDonald from the Islanders. MacDonald’s addition seemed to charge the defense especially after the team traded Andrej Meszaros to the Bruins. The Flyers have been so impressed with MacDonald’s play that they have signed him to a six-year, $30 million contract extension. His contract was set to expire at the end of the season. Overall, the defense finished the season allowing 235 goals, the most of any playoff team. Much of that can be attributed to the slow start but 10 of those goals came from the sticks of their first round opponents.
The New York Rangers enter the playoffs as the second-seeded team in the Metropolitan Division, but you’ve already figured that out by now. The Blue Shirts, like the Flyers, spread the puck around having eight skaters with 15+ goals. The Rangers scored 18 less goals than the Flyers but only allowed 193 goals, the fourth-lowest in the NHL. A big reason for the defense is the King: Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist went 33-29 with 5 shutouts, posting a 2.36 GAA, and he saved 92% of shots fired him. Usually the key to a Cup run is a hot goaltender, and King Henrik can get hot quickly.
Under the NHL’s new scheduling format, the Flyers and Rangers played four times this season. Here are the scores:
The home team is 4-0 in the season series. In fact, the Flyers haven’t won at Madison Square Garden in their eight trips; the Rangers haven’t won at the Wells Fargo Center in their last three. Probably the biggest reason for this is us, the fans. Both clubs have some the most loyal fan bases in the National Hockey League that know how to make noise. The key for either team will be to quiet the crowd quickly, making them a non-factor.
The key for the Flyers will be to get physical. The teams have split both the shots and hits categories in the four regular season games but establishing a good physical game can set the tone. Remember this hit:
The hitting isn’t the only physical play the Flyers need to execute. So many times this season, the Flyers have scored in bunches by putting a man in front the net. There were too many times the Flyers tried to score from the outside and had no one around the net to: a) screen the goalie, and/or b) put in a rebound. You can’t do that against Lundqvist and the Rangers. Just remember, there’s a reason why the Flyers are the Broad Street Bullies, and they’ll prove that again in this series.