PHILADELPHIA – Something hasn’t seemed right about this Flyers-Rangers first round series.
It has nothing to do with the Flyers facing elimination tonight, nor does it have to do with their struggles on offense – which has a lot to do with how well New York has played on defense.
No, it’s something else. Something that isn’t tangible, but yet is quite noticeable.
It’s almost as if the series has been played by card-carrying members of the mutual admiration society.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some plucky moments – because there have. It’s not to say there hasn’t been any not-safe-for-work verbal exchanges between both sides – because that’s just part of the fabric of playoff hockey.
It just seems – off, and maybe because it is.
Typically, Flyers-Rangers carries with it the stigma of deep-rooted animosity. Typically, a matchup between these clubs is hard, physical, and sometimes ruthless.
But this is a new era of this rivalry.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is a bright hockey mind who focus on speed and technique. Craig Berube, for all that he was as a player, wants the Flyers to be a disciplined hockey team and worry about competing within the system he has in place and not outside of it.
As such, the powder keg explosion everyone has been anticipating in this series hasn’t really come to fruition.
That could change tonight.
We already heard from players and coaches alike that the Flyers want to be more aggressive tonight.
The word aggressive can have so many meanings, and it’s likely the Flyers will try to pursue every one of them.
“You definitely don't want to go to the penalty box,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said. “But we’ve got to do a better job of getting numbers in the offensive zone, being more aggressive, being more physical and winning more puck battles in that area.”
And the players were saying it too. Quietly, they feel like they’re hungry dogs being let off a leash.
“We don’t want to have a parade to the penalty box because it’s been a series that’s been called pretty tight and you don’t want to be ‘that guy,’” said Brayden Schenn. “But, I would expect it to be more physical tonight. We’re a physical team and we want to play that way in our rink. It’s why we play well here.”
The difference will be the Flyers understand their lot in this series. They recognize that it’s win or go home time. They grasp that concept and recognize that something in Game 6 has to be different than in the previous five games.
Zac Rinaldo, who felt like he didn’t have a finger on the pulse of the series a couple days ago, identified it as a reaction to the Rangers.
“They’re a quick team and they try and spread us out by having their forwards push out to the red line or even our blue line,” he said about the Rangers breakout. “It makes the forecheck so much harder for me because they move it up so quick that if I try to get in there and make a hit, I might either get there late – and draw a penalty – or end up behind the play and chase it to try and stop an odd-man rush.”
But both Rinaldo and Schenn indicated that the Flyers have a gameplan in place for Game 6 that they hope will change that.
“I can’t tell you how we’re going to do it,” Rinaldo said. “But we’re going to do it. I’ll get mine [hits] in tonight.”
NOTES: Erik Gustafsson will replace Hal Gill in the lineup on defense subbing for the injured Nick Grossmann… The Rangers have lost an NHL record 11 consecutive playoff games when leading a series. The Flyers are hoping to stretch that to 12 games tonight… Berube played possum at the morning skate and in the quick line rushes had Gill take shifts with Mark Streit. He also reunited all four of his lines. With the knowledge that Gill is out and Gustafsson is in, might there be other changes to the line combinations that weren’t seen in practice? We’ll see tonight.
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