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Rangers and Flyers play for last playoff berth

by John McGourty

RANGERS (38-33-10) at FLYERS (40-35-6)

Last 10
-- New York 7-2-1; Philadelphia 3-6-1

Season series -- The Rangers hold a 3-2-0 advantage in the five games between the teams, including Friday night's 4-3 triumph at Madison Square Garden. New York and Philadelphia have split two games at the Wachovia Center, with the Rangers winning 2-1 on Dec. 19 when Chris Drury and Artem Anisimov scored and Henrik Lundqvist made 36 saves. The Flyers won 2-0 on Jan. 21 on Ray Emery's 24-save shutout and goals by James van Riemsdyk and Mike Richards. Philadelphia's 6-0 victory at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 30 was one of the Rangers' season low points. They got even on March 14, 3-1, when now-injured Sean Avery scored twice. Lundqvist was brilliant in the 4-3 victory Friday night that made this game a do-or-die situation for both teams.

Big story -- This is it, the big one. Both teams have 86 points, so the winner of this game goes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the loser goes home. The Flyers can finish seventh with a win or ninth with the loss. The Rangers get eighth place if they win -- and a early summer vacation if they don't.

Team Scope:

Rangers -- The Rangers were left for dead three weeks ago after a 2-1 loss at Boston on March 21. But they destroyed the New York Islanders 5-0 three nights later and have been on a roll since then, going 7-1-1 in their last nine games. Waiver-wire pickup Erik Christensen, obtained from Anaheim on Dec. 2, has made a big difference with 8 goals and 18 assists in 48 games. He's skating on the top line with Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik, the free-agent signee who leads the Rangers with 42 goals. Lundqvist is 35-27-9 this season, three fewer wins than a year ago, but his 2.41 goals-against average .919 save percentage are slightly better. In comparing goalies, Lundqvist gets the nod over Philadelphia's Brian Boucher.

Flyers -- The Flyers have had three seasons: They went 13-11-1, mostly with Emery in net, before coach John Stevens got fired. Then they went 23-18-3 with mostly Michael Leighton and some Emery (just past midseason) in goal before finishing 4-6-2 with Brian Boucher in net after Leighton suffered a high-ankle sprain on March 21. Leighton was 17-9-2. Veteran Sebastien Caron will be Boucher's backup Sunday but is ineligible for the playoffs.

The Flyers have had a good defense but a lot of forwards have had disappointing seasons and young players James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux (until recently) and Darroll Powe have faded in the second half. Watching Jeff Carter be the Flyers' best forward Friday night after a three-week absence due to a small broken bone in his foot raised conflicting thoughts: Of course he was (and is) the Flyers' leading scorer with 33 goals and second in total points to Mike Richards. He also looked rejuvenated after the layoff -- he was sharp and his teammates are bone-tired.

Who's hot -- Gaborik has 3 goals and 7 points in the past six games. Christensen has 2 goals and 4 points the past two games. Dubinsky has two goals and five points in five games. Lundqvist is 4-1-0 with a 1.81 GAA and .933 save percentage in his past five games. ... Richards had a pair of goals Friday and has scored three times in the past two games. Giroux has 6 points in six games.

Injury report -- Emery is gone for the season after hip surgery. Leighton's earliest recovery date is still three weeks away. Goalie Johan Backlund has a groin strain and is day-to-day. ... Rangers' agitator Avery is out for the season with a knee injury.

Stat pack -- The Rangers are the East's fifth-best road team at 20-16-4. The Flyers are tied for the East's sixth-best home team at 23-14-3. The Flyers are the NHL's second-most heavily penalized team with an average of 16.7 minutes per game. The Flyers were third-best on the power play while the Rangers ranked 13th. The Rangers were seventh-best on the penalty kill while the Flyers ranked 12th. The Flyers' 120 home goals were 15th-best. The Rangers' 94 road goals ranked 23rd.

Puck drop -- The gamesmanship as to which team faced the most pressure began within minutes of the final horn on Friday night.

"The Flyers are the ones looking over their shoulders," Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "Hopefully, with the pressure on them really for the first time, they won't know how to handle it. We sure know how. Maybe that will give us an advantage."

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