2014 NHL playoffs preview: New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
By Sarah Kwak
Regular season recaps
Oct. 24: Flyers 2, Rangers 1
Jan. 12: Rangers 4. Flyers 1
March 1: Flyers 4, Rangers 2
March 26: Rangers 3, Flyers 1
Flyers: G Steve Mason (upper body, day-to-day)
Keys to a Rangers victory
You can argue that there hasn’t been a stronger all-around team than New York since Jan. 1. The Rangers ranked sixth in scoring (2.95 goals per game) while leading the league with an average of 35.0 shots. What’s more, they allowed an NHL-low 2.00 goals-against, giving New York hockey's second best goals per game differential (+.95), behind only the Bruins. Still, the Rangers aren’t without their flaws. An impotent power play (22nd in the league at 15.9 percent) continues to plague them, particularly at home. They rank last in face-off wins (48.2 percent), an important stat in the postseason when possession is crucial. For New York to prevail against a balanced and physical Flyers team, it will need its excellent defense to stifle Philadelphia’s biggest scoring threats. New York must also get offensive production with the man advantage. Nothing makes the crowd at Madison Square Garden turn against the home team quite like a stagnant and unproductive power play.
Keys to a Flyers victory
Goals. Goals. Goals. Since Jan. 1, only the Bruins have scored more often than Philadelphia among Eastern Conference teams, and no player in the NHL had more points than Flyers center Claude Giroux (49). So for the Flyers to make a run at the Cup, they will have to keep their scoring up and their frustration level low -- not an easy task against the Rangers' formidable defense and goaltending. They must avoid overthinking and making extra passes if the goals don’t come easy against netminder Henrik Lundqvist ... which they won't. But given Philadelphia’s excellent power play, which hummed along at 21.5 percent (2nd in the NHL), goals should come eventually. And what the Flyers will also need is solid defense and reliable goaltending from Steve Mason, ailing with an upper-body injury, but who is expected back for Game 1. Mason has been serviceable, averaging 2.61 goals-against and a .912 save percentage in 31 starts since the calendar turned to 2014. But for his team to win, he needs to be outstanding.
Flyers in 7: Expect this series to go the distance; it’s a toss-up in so many ways. Philadelphia and New York complement each other very well. The Rangers seem to have just the tools to cancel out the Flyers’ biggest strengths, and vice versa. Though New York may hold the advantage in defense and goaltending, the Flyers have way more grit and energy in their lineup -- and they play to the bitter end, having scored 90 goals in the third period this season, and coming back to win seven games in which they were trailing in the third. And so that will be where the series turns. Philadelphia’s sustained will and physicality, in the end, will prevail though it won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.
Game 1: April 17, @ New York, 7pm (CNBC, TSN)
Game 2: April 20 @ New York, Noon (NBC, TSN)
Game 3: April 22 @ Philadelphia, 8pm (CNBC, TSN)
Game 4: April 25 @ Philadelphia, 7pm (CNBC, TSN)
*Game 5: April 27@ New York, Noon (NBC, TSN)
*Game 6: April 29 @ Philadelphia, time TBD, (TSN)
*Game 7: April 30 @ New York, time TBD (TSN)