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New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers @NHL
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GAME: New York Rangers (27-40-7-8) at Philadelphia Flyers (40-21-15-6).

TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT.

Few teams underwent more of an overhaul following the lockout than the Philadelphia Flyers. Whether those changes result in the franchise's first Stanley Cup title in 30 years remains to be seen.

Fourteen years after he was drafted by Philadelphia, Peter Forsberg makes his Flyers' debut when they open the season against the rebuilding New York Rangers.

The Flyers made arguably the biggest free-agent signing following the lockout when they inked Forsberg, believed by many to be the game's most complete player, to a two-year, $11.5 million contract.

Forsberg was drafted sixth overall by the Flyers in 1991, but never played for them before he was traded to Quebec as part of the controversial deal that sent Eric Lindros to Philadelphia in 1992.

Despite being one of the league's best teams for years, Philadelphia had continually failed to reach its ultimate goal.

"Our goal is going to be to win the Cup," Forsberg said. "For me, personally, I don't really look around at what people are saying or writing or anything. It's just what we have to do as a group and how we have to achieve that goal. It's a long season and a lot of things have to go right."

Forsberg helped Colorado win the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001, though injuries limited him to 39 games in 2003-04. Last year, he played for the Swedish Elite League.

Forsberg missed most of training camp after having a bursa sack removed from his right ankle earlier this month. He returned to play in the final preseason game.

"My timing is a little off. I'm not as quick as I was in practice," he said. "I'm just trying to work hard and get into it."

Forsberg wasn't the only name player that general manager Bobby Clarke brought in. He also signed hulking defensemen Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje and Chris Therien, a former Flyer who was traded to Dallas in March 2004.

Philadelphia also will rely on several young players this season, most notably Jeff Carter, the 11th overall pick in the 2003 draft, Mike Richards and backup goalie Antero Niittymaki. Carter should start at right wing and Richards will play behind Forsberg at center.

Forsberg liked what he saw of Carter, a natural center who has the size and strength to handle work along the boards at right wing.

"He's going to have a bright future in this league," Forsberg said. "I think he's going to fit in perfectly."

While the Flyers brought in several new players, many of the veterans that contributed to the team's past success are now gone. Forwards Jeremy Roenick, John LeClair and Mark Recchi and defensemen Marcus Ragnarsson, Danny Markov, Vladimir Malakhov and Mattias Timander have all departed.

For the first time in a while, the Flyers enter a season with no concerns about their goaltending. Robert Esche established himself as the team's undisputed starter in 2003-04, going 21-11-7 with a 2.04 goals-against average.

Expectations aren't nearly as high for the Rangers, who haven't made the playoffs since 1996-97 and are clearly in a rebuilding stage.

Usually one of the biggest spenders in the free-agent market, the Rangers were relatively quiet this offseason, choosing instead to build with young players.

"We will be looking at players who can help us through this transition period while we are developing a core group of home grown players," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said. "We'll look at a player's on-ice performance, character, and ability to help teach the young players what it takes to compete in the NHL."

The few signings New York did make were minor as they acquired Czech forwards Martin Rucinsky and Martin Straka, who should provide familiarity to star forward Jaromir Jagr on and off the ice. The Rangers also picked up veteran centers Steve Rucchin and Michael Nylander.

Any success the Rangers have this season will likely depend on Jagr, who had 15 goals and 29 points with New York after he was acquired from Washington.

"I think they've looked at me for the last 10 years when I was on Pittsburgh and Washington," Jagr said of being his team's focal point. "I think nothing has changed for me."

Goaltending figures to be an area of concern for the Rangers with Mike Dunham, the 2003-04 starter, having moved on to Atlanta.

Kevin Weekes will open the season as the starter, but could be pushed by Swedish prospect Henrik Lundqvist. Weekes is 78-136-33 with a 2.86 GAA in 277 career games with five teams.

2003-04 STANDINGS: Rangers - 69 points, 4th place, 32 PB, Atlantic Division. Flyers - 101 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.

2003-04 TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Bobby Holik, 25 goals, 31 assists and 56 points; Chris Simon, 225 PIM. Flyers - Recchi, 26 goals, 49 assists and 75 points; Donald Brashear, 212 PIM.

2003-04 SPECIAL TEAMS: Rangers - Power play: 14.3 percent (46 for 322), 25th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.4 percent (308 for 388), 29th. Flyers - Power play: 20.7 percent (65 for 314), 2nd. Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (290 for 348), 21st.

2003-04 GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Dunham (16-30-6, 2 SO, 3.03 GAA); Jussi Markkanen (8-12-1, 2, 2.56). Flyers - Esche (21-11-7, 3, 2.04); Sean Burke (6-5-2, 1, 2.55).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 4-1.

LAST MEETING: March 27; Rangers, 3-1. At Philadelphia, Stephen Valiquette made 38 saves, and Jagr had a goal and assist as the Rangers avoided a season series sweep.

2030-04 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 14-19-4-4 on the road; Flyers - 24-11-3-3 at home.

Associated Press
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