Sports rivalries. It is the reason why we love sports so very much. Ali-Frazier, Lakers-Celtics, Yankees-Red Sox, and the list goes on. Two teams that have an understood hatred for one another. An attitude of, “We would rather die then let them get the best of us”. Rivalries are a beautiful trip down the fierce halls of hell. Somehow the NHL scheduling Gods nailed it this year. Classic division rivals, separated by mere highway, and also separated by 2 points in pursuit of a final playoff berth.
Yes, this weekend will be a lot more to Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers fans then just bright sun and a chance to sneak down to the Jersey shore to work on their tans. The Flyers and Rangers will go head to head in the final two games of the regular NHL season in a home-at-home series that is sure to bring intensity worthy of a Stanley Cup final. The Philadelphia Flyers currently stand just two points ahead of the Rangers for the Eastern Conferences last playoff berth, and depending on where the winner sits, a first round match-up with either the explosive Washington Capitols or the staunch defense of the Buffalo Sabres. So much for being the, “winner” in all of this huh?
The Rangers will get first crack at home ice when the two teams meet Friday evening. The slim advantage here plays out for the Rangers, who are actually posting a better road record this season. If they can manage to get the win Friday, then they will go into Sunday’s game in Philly with a chance to steal the last spot away. The Flyers are no slouches at home however as they posted a 23-14-3 record within the friendly atmosphere of the Wachovia Center. The 2 teams are very close in many stats, and you can be sure that every single play will render huge. Every pass, every clearing of the puck, every shot can make the difference between who plays on and who goes home.
As for battles within the war we have the match-up of 2 of hockey’s biggest antagonizers and trouble-makers in the likes of Rangers Sean Avery and the Flyers Dan Carcillo. These 2 make an art form out of getting under opponents skin, drawing penalties and wreaking havoc. However this season the 2 have added nice wrinkles in their game. Both players have recorded double digit goal totals and are showing some actual hockey skills outside of the usual mucking and facials they lay out. Do not be fooled however, these two have also combined for 362 penalty minutes as of this point.
The New York Rangers have been hot of late, going 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, while the Flyers have slumped going 3-6-1. The Flyers are laying hopes on struggling goaltender Brian Boucher, who at times has looked slow, and scared in net. Meanwhile Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been the main stay, playing in 72 of the Rangers 80 games and has a record of 34-27-9 with a 2.40 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. New York’s offense has been led by sniper Marian Gaborik, with 41 goals, 43 assist and is a plus 14, and most importantly staying healthy, which has plagued him in the past. Flyers captain Mike Richards leads a Flyers attack that is very balanced, tallying 29 goals and 31 assist. The Flyers however will still be without top goal scorer Jeff Carter who is missing time due to injury. An MRI is scheduled to see the extent of Carter’s injury.
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