Flyers vs. Rangers, Game 1 preview: The playoffs begin at MSG

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

The playoffs begin tonight in New York. Get ready.

It's been a while, guys. 709 days if we're being exact. But finally, the Flyers are back in the playoffs.

The 2014 Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Rangers kicks off Thursday night in New York, and ... well, I'm nervous. The Rangers are not only a hated rival but also a very strong opponent, and they probably have the edge over the Flyers in this series if we're being objective.

Flyers_orange_mediumRangers_blue_medium

Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers
Game 1, Eastern Conference First Round | Series tied 0-0
7 p.m. ET | Madison Square Garden | Manhattan, New York
In Philly on CSN and 97.5 The Fanatic
Elsewhere on CNBC (US) | TSN, RDS (Canada) | MSG (NY)
Live online stream at NBCSports.com (US) and TSN.ca (Canada)

That said, it's certainly a winnable series for the Flyers. There are just a few major aspects of the series that need to fall their way:

  1. Special teams. The Flyers are a team that live and die with their special teams play, and they're going up against a Rangers teams that's pretty dang good on the penalty kill. The Flyers PKers should be able to handle New York's middle-of-the-pack PP (as always, staying out of the box is still important though too), but if the Flyers power play is clicking on all cylinders it could be what turns this series in Philly's favor. New York has the third best PK in the league, so this is going to be a tough battle all series long.
  2. Depth. Both teams are deep at forward, and while the top units might be able to cancel each other out, playoff series are often won by depth guys. The Flyers are deeper at forward (although NYR's depth is nothing to sneeze at). The Flyers bottom two lines should be able to out-perform those of the Rangers, but the Rangers are deeper on defense. Which team gets more out of the bottom of their roster?
  3. Giroux's line vs. McDonagh and Girardi. We touched on this earlier and will talk about it a lot more as the series goes on, but this matchup will be key. Can the Flyers' top line generate chances against the Rangers top defensive unit? Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell need to be the pace-setters for the Flyers. If the top line gets sealed up in the neutral zone all night, it's likely going to carry over to the rest of the team.
  4. Stopping Nash-Stepan-MSL. Martin St. Louis has only scored a goal since joining the Rangers at the deadline, but who cares. It's Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis on one line ... and oh, yeah, Derek Stepan is pretty good too. The Flyers need to shut that line down. What's up, Sean Couturier?

Most importantly, the Flyers really just need to win a game at MSG. I'm sick of hearing about that nonsensical storyline, and it's on the verge of becoming The Thing of this series. It'll only get worse if the Flyers lose Game 1 tonight. But the whole ball game changes if the Flyers win tonight.

Ray Emery grabs the start for the Flyers. Lots of people are freaking out about Steve Mason being out, but Emery has played really well down the stretch and is more than capable of winning a game tonight. The Flyers will have to beat Henrik Lundqvist, which of course is a tough task, but this Flyers team has the offensive capability to do it, especially if they get that power play rolling.

It's the playoffs, guys. Get excited. Go Flyers.

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