Yes, it's been 17 years since the Philadelphia Flyers faced the New York Rangers in the National Hockey League playoffs. But, Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Mikael Renberg, Rod Brind'Amour, Eric Desjardins, Paul Coffey and Ron Hextall (the player, not the assistant GM) are long gone. This week, Claude Giroux leads his orange and black squad into Madison Square Garden to try and turn the tide against this modern divisional foe in Round 1 of the post-season. Faceoff in New York is set for 7 p.m., EST on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.
Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Esa Tikkanen, Luc Robitaille, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter no longer wear blue on Broadway. Colin Campbell's squad was defeated by Terry Murray's team in the Eastern Conference Finals 4-1 in the spring of 1997. A few more taps on any digital screen confirms that the Rangers haven't beaten the Flyers in the playoffs since they took three of five games in the 1986 Patrick Division Semi-finals.
The 2013-14 edition of the Rangers, which includes goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, leading-scorer (59 points) Mats Zuccarello and the rest, are favored to win this series. They've outplayed the Flyers for a few years now, but the Winter Classic and a variety of recent regular season contests don't ensure that New York triumphs.
Craig Berube surely doesn't want to play without his starting netminder for long. While Steve Mason remains scratched with whiplash, veteran Ray Emery will patrol the pipes. 'Razor' is a good team guy, though it's fair to state that his on-ice performance since October has been mixed.
Mason captured the Gene Hart trophy this season, which is awarded to the player who showed the most heart. That extra ingredient is what the Flyers will need to mix into every game if they want to win this first-round series where New York has home ice advantage. Even though Philadelphia has beaten the Rangers three straight times at the Wells Fargo Center, they've lost eight straight at the Garden.
The Rangers finished a paltry two points ahead of the Flyers (96-94) in this inaugural Metropolitan Division hockey year. New York has the better goalie, but aren't offensively proficient. Philadelphia has a well-balanced offense, but wasn't defensively consistent this season.