UPDATE: G Steve Mason will not start Thursday night in New York due to injury. Ray Emery, who is 7-2 lifetime against New York, will start.
The last time the Flyers won a game in Madison Square Garden, LeBron James was without an NBA title. Peyton Manning played for the Indianapolis Colts. Terrorist Osama Bin Laden walked the Earth, with nations in fear of his every step. The Rangers themselves, to an exponentially lesser extent, have terrorized the Flyers in their garden fortress for over three years.
Three years. Over 1,100 days.
As the Philadelphia Flyers prepare to battle the rival New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the garden of demons awaits them. With New York clinching home-ice advantage, Philadelphia will more than have to relinquish these demons to advance past this round.
To do so, captain Claude Giroux will have to spearhead the attack, and lead production in the offensive zone. Often this season, Giroux has supernaturally created scoring chances from thin air. His winning snipe against Chicago and the back-to-goal fadeaway are just two samples of his magic. The Ranger defense will be difficult to break down, and Giroux needs to open up space for his team to operate in.
Obviously, the goaltending must be impeccable for the Flyers to survive this series. Philadelphia has already named Steve Mason the primary goalie for the playoffs, a deserved reward for a stellar season. The one-two punch of Mason and Emery is the most stable the team has had in years. For Philadelphia to move far into the postseason, Mason and Emery will have to take them there.
In addition, the team needs to play disciplined defense. Too often the Flyers have been caught off-guard in rushes up the ice, and have conceded crucial goals as a result. The team cannot afford to take needless penalties either, which would give the Rangers multiple powerplays, and easy access to scoring chances.
Oddly enough, Zac Rinaldo and Jay Rosehill may be the most crucial players for the Flyers. Rinaldo will be fresh off a four-game suspension, and will certainly have some steam to blow off. The pair will need to set the tempo, and cannot allow New York to hog a lengthy run of play. If they cannot quell the Rangers with their brute force, New York may score in bunches this series.
The arduous regular season is near completion. The Flyers dot their i’s and cross their t’s today against Carolina. Starting Wednesday, everyone has a chance at glory. If they truly believe in themselves, the Flyers can attain greatness. A man named Stanley is waiting, waiting to hand them a heavy silver cup.
Flyers 4-2 Rangers. Philadelphia wins in six.