By Matt Calamia
While the Rangers’ road record was among the tops in the NHL at 25-14-2 — the most road victories in the Eastern Conference — home ice in the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was a goal of the team. Once they learned their opponent would be the Philadelphia Flyers, reaching that goal became even more advantageous.
The Blueshirts enter Game 1 against the Flyers winners of eight games in a row at Madison Square Garden over their division rival, dating back to Feb. 20, 2011. In those eight games, the Rangers have out-scored the Flyers 31-9, including two shutouts. The Rangers have held the Flyers to two goals or fewer in all eight games.
“It’s great to start in our building Thursday night,” Brad Richards said Tuesday after the team’s practice. “[Home ice] might not look as important early in the series as it will maybe later, but either way, we get our matchups, our crowd. We’ve played well against [the Flyers] at home. They’re a good team on their ice, so it was important for us to clinch that and hopefully get off to a good start.”
The two teams split their season series, 2-2, with each team winning on home ice, making the advantage the Rangers secured by finishing two points ahead of the Flyers in the regular season even more crucial.
Much has been said about the Rangers’ struggles at home, but the team’s record is a bit deceiving. The Rangers were 8-10-2 in their first 20 home games, but since the start of 2014, the Blueshirts were 12-7-2 at the Garden, including 4-1 in their final five matches, one of which came against Philadelphia.
“It’s nice to start at home,” Marc Staal said. “It’s a building that we want to make really tough to play in, and it starts with getting a win on Thursday.”
A strong start in any series is important, but Henrik Lundqvist said it isn’t the first win, but the fourth.
“I don’t know how important it is,” Lundqvist said when asked how big it is for the Rangers to capture Game 1 Thursday. “I think we want to go out there and try and get a good start and not over-think it or put too much pressure on ourselves.
“It’s the first to four wins,” Lundqvist added. “It’s not about getting the first win; it’s about getting the fourth win.”