Every player remembers the first time they played on the hallowed ice at Madison Square Garden.
For Philadelphia Flyers
forward James van Riemsdyk
, his memories are a bit more meaningful than most.
"I played my first organized hockey game there, when I was like 6 years old," van Riemsdyk told NHL.com. "I scored my first goal in organized hockey there. It's a special place for me to go there."
Van Riemsdyk was playing for the American Eagles, based out of Wall, N.J.
"I love playing in New York. The atmosphere is great. They always seem to play their best at home and it brings out our best in our team. It's a fun place to play, fun place to be, not only for the game but just the atmosphere around you gives you that much more energy."
-- Mike Richards
"It was us against the Nassau County Lions," he said. "We played a game beforehand then we went to a Rangers-Devils game afterward."
Van Riemsdyk remembers most details of that day, especially his goal.
"I was on a breakaway and I took a shot -- it was mites, so I didn't really lift it -- I just went in his five hole," van Riemsdyk said. "I still remember it pretty vividly. I have the puck, the blade and the stick."
Not every player has that kind of an MSG memory, but the building known as the World's Most Famous Arena still has an allure to it unmatched by almost any other place.
"Anytime you go in New York, the city is pretty cool," Flyers All-Star forward Claude Giroux
told NHL.com. "Just walking down in Times Square is cool. Then you go into Madison Square Garden, so much stuff was played there. It's pretty special. I remember my first game playing there was pretty unbelievable."
Added Flyers captain Mike Richards
: "I love playing in New York. The atmosphere is great. They always seem to play their best at home and it brings out our best in our team. It's a fun place to play, fun place to be, not only for the game but just the atmosphere around you gives you that much more energy. I think that comes right in to the hockey rink."
The players will have their chance to create new MSG moments when the Flyers travel north on the New Jersey Turnpike to visit the Rangers in Sunday's NBC NHL Game of the Week (12:30 p.m. ET).
Games between the Flyers and Rangers almost always are intense, hard-hitting affairs, going back to the dawn of the rivalry in the 1967-68 season, the Flyers' first season. The Flyers have won 51 of their 130 games against the Rangers at MSG, with 51 losses, 23 ties and five overtime defeats. They're 10-10 in 20 playoff games there.
"There's just something about it," veteran Flyers forward Jody Shelley
told NHL.com of the rivalry. "The old Philadelphia Flyers
-- it's always gong to be a hard game. You have that feeling when you come into Philly and you know when they come into New York the fans are going to be pumped up. You're going to be pumped up. It's one of those old-school games. It's just a fun rival and there are those games you get extra amped up for. Philly was always definitely one of them."
Shelley has seen both sides of the rivalry, having ended the 2009-10 season with the Rangers prior to signing with the Flyers last summer.
Being with the Rangers last season, however, meant Shelley was part of one of the most memorable games in the teams' rivalry -- last season's regular-season finale in Philadelphia. Shelley scored the Rangers' lone goal in that one; however, Matt Carle
scored in the third to tie it, and then Giroux scored the shootout winner. Coincidentally, Giroux and Shelley are next-door neighbors in the Flyers' locker room at the Wells Fargo Center.
That final-day win propelled the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final, while Shelley got an unwanted early start to his summer.
"It was a pretty special moment for the whole team," said Giroux. "It was pretty exciting. Going back to the last game, the shootout, you dream about that, to be able to be the guy in the shootout. It was pretty special."
While Sunday's game won't reach the intensity level of last April's meeting, it's still Flyers-Rangers and it's still Madison Square Garden. And, there are still playoff implications aplenty.
"It's a lot easier to get ready for the games," said Giroux. "We don't like the Rangers and I don't think they really like us, either. It just makes for good games. The intensity goes up another level. It's more like a playoff game, for sure."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK