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Flyers vs. Rangers: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoffs 2014 Matchup

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterDecember 24, 2016

Flyers vs. Rangers: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoffs 2014 Matchup

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    Seth Wenig

    It's hard to believe, but the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 1997, when the Flyers beat the Rangers in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

    The Rangers and Flyers have been on a collision course for a first-round matchup for quite some time: The Rangers and Flyers have been in second and third, in the Metropolitan Division since March 21, with the Rangers overtaking the Flyers for second place for good on March 24.

    One of the key facets of this series will be five-on-five play: The Rangers were plus-nine at five-on-five, while the Flyers were minus-six. The Flyers supplemented that offense with a deadly power play that finished eighth (19.7) in the league, while the Rangers were 15th (18.2) with the extra man.

    Both the Rangers (third, 85.3) and Flyers (seventh, 84.8) were excellent penalty-killing teams.

    What other matchups are worth watching? This slideshow will look at every aspect of this series and offers the complete TV schedule for the series.

     

    All statistics via NHL.com.

     

Regular-Season Recap

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    Frank Franklin II

    New York Rangers: There was a lengthy adjustment period to new coach Alain Vigneault's system. The Rangers started the year 3-7-0, which included embarrassing losses to the San Jose Sharks (9-2) and Anaheim Ducks (6-0). They steadied themselves but were still 16-18-2 in late December, struggling to adapt to a playing style that afforded more freedom than the one John Tortorella employed for four-plus seasons. But from that point, the Rangers went 29-13-4 to finish second in the Metropolitan Division.

    Philadelphia Flyers: Things went similarly for the Flyers, who started the year 1-7-0 and fired coach Peter Laviolette after an 0-3-0 start. New coach Craig Berube had his team hovering around .500 in late December before watching the Flyers take off during the second half of the season. They were 16-16-4 on Dec. 21 but went 26-14-6 the rest of the way. The Flyers lost both matchups with the Rangers this season at Madison Square Garden but won the other two meetings that took place at Wells Fargo Center.

Schedule and TV Info

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    Game 1
    Thursday, April 17
    7 p.m. ET
    Philadelphia at NY Rangers
    CNBC, TSN

    Game 2
    Sunday, April 20
    Noon ET
    Philadelphia at NY Rangers
    NBC, TSN

    Game 3
    Tuesday, April 22
    8 p.m. ET
    NY Rangers at Philadelphia
    CNBC, TSN

    Game 4
    Friday, April 25
    7 p.m. ET
    NY Rangers at Philadelphia
    CNBC, TSN

    Game 5*
    Sunday, April 27
    Noon ET
    Philadelphia at NY Rangers
    NBC, TSN

    Game 6*
    Tuesday, April 29
    TBD
    NY Rangers at Philadelphia
    TSN

    Game 7*
    Wednesday, April 30
    TBD
    Philadelphia at NY Rangers
    TSN

     

    *If necessary.

Key Storylines

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Who will find a way to win on the road?

    Home ice has been nice for both teams in these matchups, especially for the Rangers. In the Flyers' last eight trips to Madison Square Garden, they are 0-8-0 and have been outscored 31-9. In two games at MSG this season, the Rangers went 2-0 and won both games by a combined 7-2. The Rangers were winless in two trips to Wells Fargo Center this season and are 1-4-0 in their past five trips to Philadelphia.

    Whichever team can find a way to win more games on the road could have control of this series.

     

    Can Steve Mason outplay Henrik Lundqvist?

    The differences in save percentage between Steve Mason (.917) and Henrik Lundqvist (.920) are small, but the gap in playoff experience is massive. Mason has made one trip to the postseason and lost all four games as a member of the Blue Jackets. Lundqvist has more playoff series victories (five) than Mason has playoff games played (four) in their careers. Since January, Lundqvist has a .929 save percentage; Mason, over the same time period, has a .912 save percentage. Throw in the fact Mason is entering the postseason battling a head/neck/shoulder injury, and the Flyers have concerns here.

     

    How will the Flyers attack Ryan McDonagh?

    Just like Mason, Ryan McDonagh is entering this series battling health issues. He hasn't played since suffering a shoulder injury April 1 against the Vancouver Canucks and may not be at 100 percent for this series. That could be a huge problem for the Rangers, as McDonagh is their top defenseman and will be called upon to shut down Claude Giroux's line. If the Flyers spend the series hitting McDonagh at every opportunity, it could pay dividends should the series go six or seven games.

Players to Watch

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers

    With Steve Mason hoping to start but potentially sitting with injury, the Flyers' hopes could fall on the shoulders of Ray Emery. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the Flyers had to use Emery, who has a .920 even-strength save percentage. That's not much worse than Mason's .923, which ranks 18th among goalies to start at least 41 games. Emery hasn't appeared in the playoffs since 2011 but took the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007.

     

    Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers

    The playmaking wizard is the one the best passers in the NHL and has an odd distinction of being the team's leading scorer with 59 points in 77 games while spending most of his time on a third line. He's also somewhat of an agitator, and it will be fun to see how he goes about trying to get under the skin of the Flyers.

     

    Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers

    The 25-year-old led the Flyers in goals this season with 29, scoring 15 of them on the power play. At 6'2" and 183 pounds, he may be the strongest player in the league pound for pound. He sets up shop at the side of the net the way Ryan Callahan once did with the Rangers, but Simmonds is nearly impossible to move. The Rangers will have a hard time handling Simmonds' skill and size.

Goaltender Breakdown

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

    This has been somewhat of a down year for the 32-year-old, who went 33-24-5 with a 2.36/.920 split. His save percentages the previous four seasons were .926, .930, .923 and .921. Whether his slow start this season had to do with playing behind a team that looked lost for two months or distractions because of an ongoing contract negotiation, Lundqvist has been his old self in the second half. That bodes well for the Rangers with the playoffs under way.

     

    Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers

    The 25-year-old had the best save percentage of his career in 2013-14, posting a .917 save percentage behind a Flyers team whose defense has hung him out to dry on more than one occasion. Still, Mason hasn't been as dominant as he was over the first two months, when he had a .934 save percentage in 19 games. In his final 41 games, his save percentage was .909. If he can recapture the magic he had over the first two months, the Flyers have a chance in this series.

Biggest Mismatch: The Defense Corps

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    Top-six defensemen

    Rangers: Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, Anton Stralman, John Moore

    Flyers: Braydon Coburn, Andrew MacDonald, Mark Streit, Kimmo Timonen, Luke Schenn, Erik Gustaffson

    The Rangers' No. 3 defenseman, Staal, would easily be the Flyers' No. 1 defenseman. The Rangers' defensemen are more mobile and better defensively. The Rangers' top-six defensemen have 28 goals and 115 points; the Flyers' top-six defensemen have combined for 28 goals and 132 points, so there's not much difference there. If McDonagh isn't able to stand up to the pounding of a seven-game series, it would go a long toward leveling the playing field.

     

The Rangers Will Win If All 4 Lines Contribute

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    The mark of a great team is the ability to get offense from all four of its lines. The Rangers' top-nine forwards include Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, so they can match up evenly with anyone there. But it's the fourth line that can make all the difference.

    The trio of Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett (or Daniel Carcillo) has been one of the best in the league this season at chipping in offensively. It's a rare thing for a fourth line to be anything more than dead weight, so when it contributes positively, it can make a world of difference and create matchup problems for the opposition.

The Flyers Will Win If Their Goaltending Outplays Henrik Lundqvist

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    With Steve Mason banged up, it's not out of the question that Ray Emery will appear at some point in this series. For the Flyers to win this series, either Mason or Emery will have to be better than Henrik Lundqvist at the other end of the ice.

    The Rangers are deeper at forward and on defense, so if the Flyers are to win this series, the goaltending will have to be stellar.

Prediction: Rangers in 5

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    The only thing that can prevent the Rangers from winning this series is Ryan McDonagh slipping too far from his Norris Trophy-caliber play over the past two months or Henrik Lundqvist being outplayed by Steve Mason. The former is possible because of McDonagh's shoulder injury, but the latter seems almost impossible to fathom.

    The Rangers haven't won in Philadelphia this season, but they have the third-best road record (25-14-2), and that will be enough to carry them past the Flyers in the first round.

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