By Matt Calamia
The rivalry between the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers is as intense as they come in the National Hockey League. Toss in two important points in the Metropolitan Division that are up for grabs tonight at Madison Square Garden and you’ve got what could be an instant classic on Broadway.
The Rangers enter the game one point ahead of Philadelphia for second in the division, though the Flyers do have two games in hand. If the playoffs were to end today, the two enemies would meet in the opening round of the playoffs, with the Rangers hosting Games 1 and 2, and of course — if necessary — Game 7.
That’s a few weeks away, though, as both sides are downplaying the match as being any more important than any other game remaining in the dwindling 2013-14 regular season.
“We’ve won what, our four last games, and we haven’t budged a bit,” head coach Alain Vigneault said when asked about the potential first-round meeting. “We have to focus on one game at a time and work on getting in and we’ll see what happens after that.”
That sentiment is felt by his counterpart, Craig Berube, who said tonight’s match is “as big as the next one we’re going to play.”
“They’re all — 10 games left or 11, whatever — they’re all huge games,” Berube said following his team’s skate at the Garden. “I don’t really view this one bigger than the next one. We’ve got to win hockey games. That’s what it boils down to.”
Both teams enter the game red-hot. The Rangers have won four consecutive games while the Flyers are 7-2-1 in their last 10.
“I think the two of us have been battling all season long,” Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. “It seems like we get ahead, we lose a game, they jump ahead. It’s vice versa the whole season. I think this is a huge game. This could be a potential first-round matchup. I’ve thought both teams have played well in the [season] series, and tonight’s going to be another exciting game that we have to show up for and be ready.”
The Rangers have won one of three games against Philadelphia this season, while dropping both games in Philadelphia. The Rangers were victorious in a 4-1 win on Jan. 12.
No Ranger has been part of the New York-Philadelphia rivalry longer than Henrik Lundqvist. The King, who said the focus is finally off of him following his two record-breaking games last week, is 26-13-3 all-time against the Flyers with four shutouts.
“Facing them, it’s always fun,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a physical game and they have a lot of skill that we have to respect, but we’re feeling good about our game and where we’re at right now. We just have to keep pushing ourselves to be even better.”
Despite not giving into saying this game does have a bigger feel than any of the team’s other eight remaining contests, Vigneault did say the rivalry between the two teams is special.
“It’s a good rivalry,” the coach lamented. “It’s emotional. It’s physical. There’s definitely some bad blood between both organizations, both groups of players.”