NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers admitted they were already feeling the emotions that typically come with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But it's reining in those emotions that could prove key as they open their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS, MSG, CSN-PH).
With intensity running high in the postseason, avoiding costly penalties is imperative to any team's success. It could be especially true against the Flyers, who led the NHL in penalty minutes this season.
If their previous games are any indication, the first Flyers-Rangers playoff series in 17 years should be a physical affair. In their four regular-season games, New York and Philadelphia combined for 231 penalty minutes. Former Flyer and current Rangers forward Daniel Carcillo drew 27 penalty minutes in two games.
Carcillo won't dress for the Rangers in Game 1, and New York will focus on keeping the Flyers' eighth-ranked power play off the ice.
"Obviously there is going to be [physical] situations. You just don't want to get caught taking a penalty and putting your team down 5-on-4," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We're just focusing on making plays out there. Going hard, playing hard, going to the net, making things happen, and just being smart and disciplined."
The word "smart" was used frequently by Rangers players following their final practice before the series begins. The Flyers feasted on teams much of the season using an aggressive forecheck from forwards Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell. Handling that aggressive attack will be a big part of the Rangers' game plan.
Particularly against Simmonds, who led the Flyers this season with 29 goals and 15 power-play goals.
"He's a big body in front of the net. He's pretty good at putting home rebounds. You need to be aware of him around our net," defenseman Marc Staal said. "Those retaliatory penalties, you want to stay away from those; especially with their power play. They can move it around pretty well and they have a lot of guys that can finish."
Forward Jesper Fast did not practice on Thursday but will play. McDonagh will see his first game action since injuring his shoulder against the Vancouver Canucks on April 1. He missed four games with the ailment before being rested for the regular-season finale against the Montreal Canadiens on April 12.
Here is the projected lineup:
Rick Nash - Derek Stepan - Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Jesper Fast
Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Dominic Moore - Brian Boyle - Derek Dorsett
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
John Moore - Kevin Klein
Scratched: Raphael Diaz, Ryan Haggerty, J.T. Miller, Daniel Carcillo, Justin Falk
Injured: Chris Kreider (hand)