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Flyers, Rangers meet in potential playoff preview

by Kevin Weekes /

We've reached that time of the season where every game is more important than the last. That's definitely true of the Wednesday Night Rivalry game this week, which will see the Philadelphia Flyers visit Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers in a potential Stanley Cup Playoff preview (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2, RDS).

The Rangers are one point ahead of Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division, although the Flyers have two games in hand. It doesn't hurt that this also is one of the best rivalries in the NHL. These games always are nasty. Definitely no love lost between these two teams and their very passionate fan bases.

The Rangers earned a hard-fought and much-needed win against the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday. Now they go up against the Flyers, who really are coming on. They've got several 20-goal scorers and Wayne Simmonds is having a heck of a season. He's got more goals than Anze Kopitar and Kopitar is a star in this League. Scott Hartnell is doing his thing and Claude Giroux has been great. Vincent Lecavalier is playing better lately and they're getting production from everywhere. I just love what coach Craig Berube is doing with that team and the belief that he's instilled in them.

After beating the Pittsburgh Penguins twice and the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues once each last week, they're playing confident hockey. They're hanging on to the puck and not taking silly penalties the way they were at the start of the season. Getting balanced scoring also shows that they're playing with confidence, because it's infectious. It's not just one line or one player providing the offense; it's throughout their lineup. Sean Couturier is making some plays even though he's more of a defensive, third-line player. Jakub Voracek has been excellent after a quiet start for him. That's a telltale sign for me, that so many skaters are making plays in their lineup.

They're finding scoring now after being unable to score at the start of the season. If not for goaltender Steve Mason in that first month or month and a half, the Flyers would have been eaten alive. They might not even be in the playoff race right now if not for him. And with the coaching change they've played a different brand of hockey.

Berube has had a major impact. He's one of the guys, in a sense. He doesn't forget what it's like to play. He doesn't talk down to the players. From talking to players on that team I can tell that everyone in that locker room respects him and is impressed with how he's coaching. He's not coaching down to the players; he's trying to empower them and also is boots on the ground right there with them.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has had a similar impact since taking over his team last summer.

I like Vigneault's disposition; he's classy. He handles his players well internally and in the media. He's also empowered them to make some plays. The Rangers were a broken team offensively prior to this season because so much of their game was shot blocking and collapsing. Those are good qualities to have, but not at the expense of making a play. That's not the case anymore. They're back in a system where they're encouraged to make a play.

As usual, Henrik Lundqvist has been a rock in the Rangers' crease, recently establishing new franchise records for career wins and shutouts. With all these major milestones out of the way, this could be an interesting run for Lundqvist. He's got all the money, he's got a nice beard, he's got all the cars, he's wearing the nice cologne and the good suit. He's also got a Vezina Trophy and All-Star Games and Olympics medals. I just think the key now for him is to continue his growth as a player. His maturity level is much higher than it ever was. It's now all about the collective -- doing everything he can to bring the Stanley Cup to New York.

All the other accolades are there. He could end up winning 600 games in this League. If there is one goalie who can make a run at Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy's career numbers, it's Lundqvist. If he plays seven more seasons and wins 40 games a season, that's 280 more wins; do the math. That's big picture, but the focus for him right now is winning a Stanley Cup in New York.

If he's going to do it this season he'll probably have to go through Philadelphia. And they'll be ready.

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