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Flyers and Rangers set for Friday showdown

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Flyers and Rangers set for Friday showdown
While the rest of the world gets ready for the Christmas holiday, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are focused on each other entering Friday's Winter Classic preview.

NEW YORK -- It could be easy for an NHL team to lose focus heading into its final game before a two-day holiday break. Brandon Dubinsky of the New York Rangers doesn't foresee that being a problem against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night.

"I don't think anybody has Christmas on their mind," Dubinsky said following the Rangers' 4-1 win against the Islanders on Thursday night. "I haven't even finished my shopping yet, and I don't plan to until that game's over."

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Friday night's game at Madison Square Garden will be the final meeting between the Rangers and Flyers before their showdown at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2. The Flyers enter Friday's contest in first in the East with 46 points while the Rangers sit fourth with 44.

The Rangers could take over the top spot in the conference by beating the Flyers and having the second-place Boston Bruins lose in regulation Friday night. There's been a lot of hype surrounding the Winter Classic and HBO's "24/7" documentary following both teams around, but all that matters to Dubinsky is the potential four-point swing that's on the line.

"There's a lot of buildup with the show, with the Classic and all that stuff. But for us, there's two teams at the top of the conference right now and four points at stake," Dubinsky said. "That’s the way we're going to approach and that's what's going to get us excited and make the game intense and live up to all the buildup that's going to come with it."

If Friday's game -- the third in four nights for the Rangers -- is anything like the first meeting this season, it should be a treat.

The Rangers emerged with a 2-0 victory on Nov. 26 at Madison Square Garden, playing a Flyers team that was without Chris Pronger, James van Riemsdyk and Jaromir Jagr. Van Riemsdyk and Jagr will be back for Friday's game, but Pronger is out for the season due to a concussion.

That contest got off to a physical start, with the Rangers' Brandon Prust fighting Zac Rinaldo five seconds into the first period. Prust dropped the gloves for a second time about 11 minutes later against Wayne Simmonds.

Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin scored the game's only goals and Henrik Lundqvist, who will be back in net Friday after Martin Biron played in Thursday's 4-2 win against the Islanders, made 29 saves for the shutout.

In the upcoming rematch, Marian Gaborik, who is tied for the League lead in goals with 20, expects more of the same.

"It's going to be a preview of the Winter Classic," Gaborik said. "Everybody's interested about that game. It's going to be our back-to-back, so we're going to have to make sure we jump to the game to the right away. We know it's always physical, so we just have to play our game and use our strength, which is speed, good goaltending and try to wear them down."

"I don't think anybody has Christmas on their mind. I haven't even finished my shopping yet, and I don't plan to until that game's over." -- Brandon Dubinsky
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who along with Ryan McDonagh will have the unenviable task of stopping the Flyers' top line of Jagr, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, expects an intense battle with a division rival, whether it's a prelude to an outdoor game or not.

"Tomorrow's going to be a huge game with the buildup to the Winter Classic going on," Girardi said. "It's just another hockey game but it's against a really good team. I think it's going to be a hard game."

It will also be a hard game to look past for the Rangers, no matter what type of holiday rest awaits them.

"We know that we have 60 minutes to lay it on the line, then we'll get a little bit of rest," Dubinsky said. "I think guys will be ready to go. With the buildup for the Winter Classic, it's going to be an intense game."

"No disrespect to the Islanders," coach John Tortorella said, "but I know our players are looking to that Philadelphia game."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
 
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