The decision to select these two teams was not an arbitrary one; the Flyers and Rangers have one of the most intense rivalries in American sports. From the men in the front office, to the players on the ice, to the fans in the seat, it seems New York and Philadelphia are constantly at odds with one another.
The tension between the two teams is sure to be showcased in HBO's 24/7 documentary leading up to the game itself, but to really understand the rivalry, one must dig a little deeper.
Here are six reasons you just have to love when the Rangers and Flyers hit the ice together.
It’s not just the Flyers and Rangers in the upcoming Winter Classic. It’s also the Phillies-Yankees 2009 World Series. It’s the Eagles-Giants, pretty much any given Sunday. Hell, let’s be honest, if Michael Nutter and Michael Bloomberg threw down in the middle of the street, the cities would be up in arms about it.
Philadelphia is the little brother that wants to beat big brother New York just one time.
The state of New Jersey is split down the middle and is likely home to more Flyers and Rangers fans than New Jersey Devils fans. When you can drive an hour up the Turnpike and see everything turn from orange to blue, you know these hockey teams have plenty of reasons not to like each other.
The Flyers-Rangers rivalry is not simply about two teams that hate each other; it’s also about the players on those teams who hate each other. The list of players who cannot seem to get along goes way back, and it continues to grow every season.
In recent memory, Brandon Dubinsky and Mike Richards found themselves at each other's throats every time the teams got together. The biggest pest in the league, Sean Avery, constantly found himself jawing with the second-biggest pest in the league, Dan Carcillo.
Even with Avery, Carcillo and Richards gone from the rivalry, the teams will have to deal with the fact that the Flyers are getting offensive contributions from one of the greatest Rangers of all-time, Jaromir Jagr. Before the season is over, expect both teams to have a whole new batch of players that hate each other.
When hockey’s next big thing, Eric Lindros, refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques and sat out a full season, the Rangers and Flyers began battling just as hard in the GM’s office as they did on the ice. Both teams emerged as serious contenders in the Lindros sweepstakes, and the two clubs put together tempting packages to lure the Nordiques into doing business.
Apparently, both teams made an offer Quebec couldn’t refuse, as both teams famously acquired Lindros’s rights.
The Flyers thought they had won the standoff when Quebec agreed to their deal, only to have the same French Canadian front office accept an offer from the Rangers shortly after. Lindros appeared to be headed for the Big Apple, but the case went to an independent arbitrator, who ruled the Flyers owned Lindros’s rights at the time the Nordiques and Rangers made their deal.
The results of the hearing would dramatically impact both teams for the rest of the decade.
For the Flyers and Rangers, the Lindros saga had a final chapter written in 2001, after Lindros had sat out a full season due to apparent issues with general manager Bobby Clarke. In August of that year, Clarke would trade the superstar he stole in 1992 to the Rangers, bringing the entire struggle between the Flyers and Rangers full circle.
By this point in his career, Lindros had become one of the most abrasive figures in Philadelphia sports, and matters were only made worse by the fact that he wound up with a hated rival.
Had Lindros been shipped across the continent to San Jose or Vancouver, he would have rarely crossed the minds of Flyers fans again. But the Rangers were the only team on his short list that Clarke was willing to negotiate with, and No. 88 would play three seasons in the Big Apple.
While Lindros was in decline by the time he joined the Rangers, it is only fitting that Philly’s fallen hero would find himself at home in Madison Square Garden.
The Flyers have made the Stanley Cup finals five times since 1980, and each time they’ve needed to eliminate the Rangers in order to advance. This includes two victories in the division semifinals, one in the quarterfinals, and one in the conference finals.
Most recently, the Flyers became the first team to win a playoff spot on the last day by eliminating its competitor in a shootout. The 2009 team sneaked into the playoffs by stealing the last point of the season from the Rangers, and the momentum would take the Flyers all the way to Game 6 of the finals.
Whenever the Flyers make a serious run, the Rangers are there to make Philly earn its stripes.
Some of sports’ great rivalries are bred from the scenario of two teams constantly competing for the championship. The Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry was one borne of the success of the two teams, and both squads hated each other from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. But combine that competitive spirit with a complete lack of success, and that tension is enough to put the rivalry over the edge.
The Flyers and Rangers have combined for only three championships since 1940, one since 1975 and none since 1994. For as competitive as these teams are, those numbers are frustratingly low. And who better to take those frustrations out on than the Turnpike rival?
Perhaps that’s why Flyers fans and Rangers fans have so much difficulty getting along – we are too similar. We have watched the lowly Devils win three Stanley Cups since 1994, we have been home to some of hockey’s greatest superstars and been unable to go the distance, we have watched apathetic fan bases in Pittsburgh, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Chicago bathe in glory while we spend our summers wondering why this wasn’t “The Year.”
Whether we admit it or not, there is a mutual respect between the Flyers and Rangers, and the fans of those teams. We know we are not so different after all, and while we may fight, we are among hockey’s most die-hard fans.