5 Keys for Philadelphia Flyers to Beat New York Rangers in Playoff Matchup

Brad KurtzbergContributor IApril 16, 2014

5 Keys for Philadelphia Flyers to Beat New York Rangers in Playoff Matchup

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    The Flyers prepare to meet the Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs.
    The Flyers prepare to meet the Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs.Matt Slocum

    The Philadelphia Flyers will open the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday night when they take on the New York Rangers.

    This will be the 11th time these two rivals will meet in the postseason. For a look back at the previous 10 series, click here.

    These two teams are very evenly matched. The Rangers finished the regular season with just two more points than the Flyers. In addition, the Flyers and Rangers split their regular-season series, with each team winning both of its games on home ice.

    Here is a look at the five keys to this series from a Flyers' point of view. The more successful the Orange and Black are at making these five things happen, the better their chances are of victory.

    Feel free to comment on any of the items listed here or add one of your own. As always, indicate why you feel the way you do.

5. Stay out of the Penalty Box and Kill Penalties When Necessary

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    Sean Couturier is a key to the Flyers' penalty kill.
    Sean Couturier is a key to the Flyers' penalty kill.Chris Szagola

    The Flyers led the league in penalty minutes this season with 1,180.

    Philadelphia also had a strong penalty-killing unit, which is why the team was able to qualify for the playoffs despite spending so much time in the sin bin.

    The Flyers finished seventh in the NHL on the penalty kill with an 84.8 percent success rate.

    The Rangers' power play was 15th in the league with an 18.2 percent conversion rate, but there is enough talent on the ice to make the Rangers dangerous with the man advantage.

    Players like Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis are the biggest names on the ice, but the Rangers like to spread the wealth around. Five different Rangers scored at least five power-play goals for the team this season.

    That doesn't include St. Louis, who was acquired at the trade deadline and scored only one goal in 19 games with New York.

    Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot tied for the team league with seven power-play goals each while Chris Kreider had six.

    The Flyers need to stay out of the penalty box as much as possible and not give the Rangers too many chances with the extra attacker.

    When it is short-handed, the dynamic duo of Sean Couturier and Matt Read is among the top penalty-killing tandems in the league. Philadelphia also needs goalies Steve Mason and Ray Emery to come up big while the team is short-handed.

    The Flyers need to continue to do a good job while short-handed in order to win this series.

4. Lower Henrik Lundqvist's Confidence

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    Lundqvist remains the Rangers' best player.
    Lundqvist remains the Rangers' best player.Seth Wenig

    Henrik Lundqvist is the best player on the Rangers' roster and the key to their success.

    "King Henrik" has won an Olympic gold medal, played in All-Star Games and won a Vezina Trophy. The only major prize that has eluded Lundqvist during his NHL career is a Stanley Cup.

    Lundqvist's playoff numbers are almost identical to his regular-season statistics. His career goals-against average in the playoffs is 2.28 while it's 2.26 in the regular season. His save percentage is identical at .920.

    However, Lundqvist has been a consistent winner in the regular season while only reaching the Eastern Conference Final once in his career (2012).

    If the Flyers can get some early goals on Lundqvist, it's possible the Swede could start to think, "Here we go again" and his confidence could wane a bit.

    Philadelphia also needs to find a way to beat Lundqvist at least once at Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist is 8-0-0 in his last eight games against the Flyers at MSG, with two shutouts, a .960 save percentage and a 1.13 GAA.

    The Rangers as a team have won the last eight meetings with Philadelphia at home and Philadelphia has scored two or fewer goals in all eight of those contests.

    At most, the Rangers will have four home games in the series. The Flyers need to find a way to win once on the road or this postseason stay will be a brief one.

3. Claude Giroux Must Score and Lead

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    Claude Giroux is the catalyst for the Flyers offense.
    Claude Giroux is the catalyst for the Flyers offense.Associated Press

    Claude Giroux is the Flyers' captain and leader. He is also the player that makes the Orange and Black go.

    How important is Giroux to the Flyers? When Giroux scored at least one goal this season, Philadelphia had a 21-2-1 record.

    When Giroux opened the season with a 15-game scoring drought, the Flyers were just 3-11-1.

    Obviously, the Flyers need more than just one player to create offense, but without a productive Giroux, Philadelphia will have a hard time winning four games against the Rangers.

    As Giroux goes, so go the Flyers.

2. Play Solid Team Defense

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    The Flyers need to play solid defense as a team to get past the Rangers.
    The Flyers need to play solid defense as a team to get past the Rangers.USA TODAY Sports

    Many people have discussed the Flyers' defensive corps as the club's alleged weakness. Clearly, it is not the team's strong point.

    Philadelphia finished 20th in the NHL with 227 goals allowed, an average of 2.73 tallies per game.

    The addition of Andrew MacDonald at the trade deadline stabilized the unit a bit and gave it a bit more depth and confidence during the stretch drive. However, the Flyers still lack a shutdown defenseman like Chris Pronger and could use more consistency as a team in their own end.

    In the playoffs, the intensity level increases and checking grows tighter. It is important that the Flyers play solid team defense.

    This goes beyond the six defensemen that will dress for any given game. The forwards must backcheck and pick up the speedy New York forwards in the neutral zone.

    If players like Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreiderif he returns from injurycan move unimpeded through center ice and pick up speed before they enter the Philadelphia zone, the Flyers will be in for a difficult series.

    Defense is a team effort. Craig Berube has preached a more defense-oriented style and it has helped, but the Flyers need to take that to another level in order to win this series.

1. Get Consistent Goalteding

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    Regardless of which goalie plays, the Flyers need to get solid play in net.
    Regardless of which goalie plays, the Flyers need to get solid play in net.Charles Rex Arbogast

    According to Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post, starting goalie Steve Mason will be unavailable for Game 1 against the Rangers. Instead, veteran backup Ray Emery will get the call.

    Regardless of who plays in goal, the Flyers need to get consistent goaltending in this series in order to win.

    The Flyers have already proven that they don't need elite goalies to reach the Stanley Cup Final. In 2010, they won the Eastern Conference with the duo of Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton in net. Boucher was a solid backup at that point in his career and Leighton was a journeyman who spent most of his career in the minors.

    Still, Boucher and Leighton did get hot at the right time and helped the Flyers advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1997. The duo of Mason and Emery must do at least as well.

    The Flyers are one of the better offensive teams in the league. They finished eighth in goals scored and had seven players score at least 20 goals on the season. If the offense continues to be productive, it gives Philadelphia's goalies a bit more of a margin for error.

    But in the playoffs against top competition, consistent goaltending is a must.

    Either Mason or Emery has to get hot in this series. It will be tough to outplay Lundqvist, but to play almost as well as the New York goalie may be enough if the Flyers offense remains productive and dangerous.