With the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin Wednesday, CSNWashington.com is previewing each of the eight first round matchups.
NEW YORK (M2) VS. PHILADELPHIA (M3)
In the latest example of ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,’ the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers will meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning tonight at Madison Square Garden.
Both Philadelphia and New York struggled mightily in October, with the Flyers opening the season with a 1-7-0 record, while the Rangers went 3-7-0 out of the gate.
Philadelphia changed coaches just three games into the campaign and the Flyers took time to adjust under rookie NHL bench boss Craig Berube. Meanwhile, the Rangers were also getting acclimated to a new system under head coach Alain Vigneault as they began the year with a franchise record nine-game road trip while renovations were completed at MSG.
Both teams though would successfully adjust over the course of the 82-game campaign and the Rangers and Flyers enter the postseason as two of the hottest teams down the stretch. While the Rangers ended the season 9-2-2 over their final 13 games, the Flyers went 16-7-4 over the final third of the season, highlighted by an 11-2-1 stretch from Feb.1-Mar.22.
KEY MATCHUP: For the first time in four years, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi won’t have to worry about shutting down Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin in a postseason series. Instead, Girardi and his defensive partner Ryan McDonagh will likely see a whole lot of Philadelphia’s No.1 line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek.
Girardi has long been known as a premier shutdown defenseman-the type the Capitals so badly covet- and the 29-year-old was rewarded this season with a six-year, $33 million extension. McDonagh, 24, has also emerged as one of the NHL’s best young blueliners and the U.S. Olympian led all Rangers defensemen with 14 goals and 43 points.
Giroux is coming off a career season, in which he scored a personal best 28 goals and finished third in League scoring with 86 points. Philadelphia was 21-2-1 when Giroux scored this season; 20-28-9 when he didn’t.
If the Rangers can successfully contain Philadelphia’s top line, the Flyers will have to look to some of its secondary scoring, of which there is no shortage. The Flyers had an NHL-high seven 20-goal scorers this season including veteran Vincent Lecavalier, who is expected to skate on Philadelphia’s fourth line to begin the series. All told, the Flyers will have at least one 20-goal scorer on all four forward lines.
GOALTENDING: The Rangers will again count on Henrik Lundqvist, who overcame a slow start to the season but finished with a 33-24-5 record with five shutouts, a 2.36 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage. The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner also established franchise records for most career wins and shutouts.
The goaltending situation is somewhat less sturdy for Philadelphia with No.1 Steve Mason expected to miss Game 1 with an upper-body injury he suffered in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Mason, who tied his career-high with 33 wins and appeared in a personal-best 61 games, is listed as day-to-day and could return before the end of the series.
Ray Emery (9-12-2, 2.96 GAA, .903 SV%) is expected to start Game 1 for the Flyers. Emery was Corey Crawford’s backup on last year’s Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
CHUCK GORMLEY: PHILADELPHIA IN 7
BEN RABY: PHILADELPHIA IN 5