The gaze of hockey fans across North America will be on Madison Square Garden Friday night (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS), and for good reason. The matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers
and New York Rangers
always is intense, but this game could have a big impact on how the Stanley Cup Playoffs picture will look.
To wit: The sixth-seeded Boston Bruins
would clinch a playoff berth of the Rangers lose in regulation. The Montreal Canadiens
likewise would clinch a playoff berth if the Rangers were to lose in regulation, overtime or a shootout. And most directly, the Flyers are in the postseason if the beat the Rangers. So, the Rangers are not going to be feeling a lot of love from the Eastern Conference counterparts.
"I think we're pretty excited," coach Peter Laviolette
said. "We got to win a hockey game. We understand, the Rangers understand, this should be a good hockey game if both teams show up and play. And we're excited about it.
Everybody at some point during the course of the year, you get an opportunity to be in the playoffs or out of the playoffs and ultimately it's up to the way we play the game tonight. Tonight's our chance. I think the guys realize we need to win this hockey game tonight. I don't think anyone's looking past tonight. The Rangers are the same way, so it should be a good hockey game."
The Rangers have been simply seeking the chance to play some meaningful games after an uneven season and now, the opportunity is here.
"It's within us. We don't have to look at the board anymore, because it's right in front of us, in our building and in their building." -- John Tortorella
"We wanted to make the Philly games count, and they do now," Rangers coach John Tortorella said after a 5-1 win over Toronto Wednesday kept hope alive. "It's within us. We don't have to look at the board anymore, because it's right in front of us, in our building and in their building."
"We're happy and excited to be in this position," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist
told the New York Post. "Both teams are pretty excited I'm sure, but the difference is we have been on the outside [of the playoffs] the whole time and [the Flyers] have been on the inside, so hopefully they feel more pressure than we do.
"The last couple of weeks it's been a battle trying to get back into the playoffs," Lundqvist said. "It certainly has been a physical and mental battle. The way we've been working, we're showing a lot of heart coming back. We're winning in different ways. That's something we looked for during that season and it hadn't happened. But down the stretch we've stepped up. (The playoffs) began probably a month ago."
A regulation win for the Rangers Friday makes Sunday's rematch at the Wachovia Center a true "win and you're in" game for both teams, who would have 86 points each. A regulation loss will end their playoff hopes; a single point will leave them with a faint possibility of catching Boston, which has two games remaining.
"These are the games, I won't say you look up to, because you don't want to be in that position, but we're in that position and you might as well embrace it instead of saying we should've done that all year instead of being in that position," Ian Laperriere
said. "I feel a good buzz in the locker room today and hopefully it's going to carry in to tonight's game."
"I'm always a little nervous, excited, anxious to get going," Flyers forward Blair Betts
said. "It's kind of a two-game playoff series here and you don't want to give them a chance to possibly clinch a playoff spot Sunday. We want to come out with a great effort and get a win tonight."
For Betts, the game is a bit more emotional because it comes against his former team.
"I think there's a little extra emotion and that kind of thing for sure," Betts said. "But I'm just trying to approach it like any other game. Last game in Toronto we took the mentality it was a must-win for us and we came out and played strong and got the win. Hopefully we do the same tonight."
The Flyers-Rangers game is one of five on Friday's schedule. None of the four other games will affect who makes the playoffs, but there are still things for the eight teams in action to play for.
Washington, which locked up the Presidents' Trophy by beating Pittsburgh 6-3 on Tuesday, would love to get Alex Ovechkin
a couple of goals when the Atlanta Thrashers
come to the Verizon Center for a 7 p.m. ET start (VERSUS, NHLN-CA). Ovechkin begins the night with 48 goals, one behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby
for the NHL lead.
Columbus becomes the first team to complete its season when the Blue Jackets host Detroit at 7 p.m. ET. The Jackets will want to put on a good show for the home folks in the back end of a home-and-home; the Wings won 4-3 at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday and are jockeying for playoff position in the West.
At 8 p.m. ET, Anaheim visits St. Louis after losing 3-2 in a shootout at Dallas on Thursday. The Blues are playing their final home game of the season.
An hour later, Chicago visits Colorado (9 p.m. ET, VERSUS) in what could be a first-round playoff preview -- the Hawks need a victory to regain first place in the Western Conference, while the Avs begin the night in eighth place after clinching the final playoff berth in the conference Tuesday.
NHL.com Staff Writer Dave Lozo contributed to this report.