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Flyers-Rangers Preview

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers
The New York Rangers look to clinch their first Atlantic Division title in 12 years when they visit the Philadelphia Flyers, who expect to have Peter Forsberg back in the lineup.


New York leads both Philadelphia and New Jersey by three points in the division, and with a victory, will earn its first Atlantic title since winning the Stanley Cup in the 1993-94 season. The Rangers have already clinched their first playoff appearance since 1997.

New York, though, has struggled down the stretch with three straight losses, including a 5-3 defeat to last-place Pittsburgh on Thursday.

"It's time to circle the wagons and explain to everyone we must be better," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "I'm disappointed in what we have chosen to do here in the last few games and I don't like that. There's a lot at stake here."

Goaltender Kevin Weekes has started six straight games for rookie Henrik Lundqvist, who is out with a hip flexor injury. Weekes is 3-0-1 with a 2.46 goals-against average against Philadelphia this season.

Jaromir Jagr scored his league-leading 54th goal on Thursday, and is tied with San Jose's Joe Thornton for the NHL lead with 122 points. Jagr has an eight-game point streak against the Flyers, with 10 goals and seven assists in those contests.

"We've had such a great year and we don't want to give it away," Jagr said.

Forsberg has missed the last four games with a groin injury, but is expected to play in a game that could determine first place in the Atlantic.

"I feel good. I feel better. I should be fine," said Forsberg, who has 19 goals and 55 assists in 58 games this season. "I'm not worried about it. It's a big game and I'm glad to be back."

New York leads the season series with Philadelphia 4-3, and has won four straight games at the Wachovia Center.

"This game is a crucial one if we want to try to finish first," Flyers forward Simon Gagne said. "We have it in our hands. We have a chance to start at home. We have to show them we're ready. We're having a lot of success on the road against them. We're relaxed there. Maybe we need to bring some of that here."

The Flyers have lost three of their last four home games and five of eight overall, but are a better team with Forsberg in the lineup. Philadelphia is 33-16-9 with him on the ice and just 10-9-2 when he doesn't play.

The Flyers lost 4-1 to the Devils on Thursday and play New Jersey again at Continental Airlines Arena on Sunday.

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said goaltender Robert Esche will start on Saturday. He has won four of his last six games, but is just 1-4-1 with a 3.56 GAA all-time against New York at the Wachovia Center.

STANDINGS: Rangers - 100 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Flyers - 97 points, 2nd place (tied), 3 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 54 goals, 68 assists and 122 points; Darius Kasparaitis, 97 PIM. Flyers - Gagne, 45 goals and 77 points; Forsberg, 55 assists; Donald Brashear, 152 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Rangers - Power play: 18.9 percent (82 for 433), 8th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.0 percent (399 for 475), 8th (tied). Flyers - Power play: 18.2 percent (79 for 434), 15th. Penalty killing: 78.7 percent (354 for 450), 27th.

GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Weekes (14-13-3, 2.92 GAA); Lundqvist (30-11-9, 2 SO, 2.18). Flyers - Esche (21-10-5, 1, 2.97); Antero Niittymaki (22-15-6, 2, 3.01).

SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 4-3.

LAST MEETING: April 4; Rangers, 3-2 (SO). At New York, Michael Nylander scored in regulation and the shootout as the Rangers clinched a playoff berth.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 19-15-6 on the road; Flyers - 21-13-6 at home.
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