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Rangers riding consistency, depth into postseason

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- The Philadelphia Flyers have lived up to their billing as the Broad Street Bullies for decades. As the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, what exactly is the identity of the New York Rangers, who the Flyers meet Thursday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS, CSN-PH, MSG) at Madison Square Garden?

Alain Vigneault has reshaped that identity since replacing John Tortorella as coach last summer, turning the Rangers into a team reliant on depth and chemistry at every position. That refusal to alter his lines and insistence on rolling four forward combinations and six defensemen keyed New York's run to the postseason and could be the difference against Philadelphia.

"That was the game plan in an Olympic year with having the Olympians go and the tightened schedule, especially down the stretch in March," forward Brad Richards said. "There was a reason why we were able to play good hockey, and I think that everybody was spread out and had responsibilities and we weren't [running] on fumes coming in."

Barely having to make lineup changes in the past few months, Vigneault found scoring from a number of sources. New York had nine players score at least 14 goals this season, matching the Boston Bruins for the highest total in the NHL. That was a departure from Tortorella, who tended to give more minutes to his top players.

The hope now is the overall chemistry the Rangers have demonstrated since December can propel them past the Flyers.

"Throughout the regular season, guys have gotten comfortable with their roles and what they individually need to do for team success," defenseman Marc Staal said. "We've been able to do that consistently. Hopefully we can take that confidence into tonight."

The Flyers have been rolling all four lines as well, but coach Craig Berube has been more prone to shuffling them of late. Center Vincent Lecavalier's recent demotion to the fourth line helped jump-start that trio and improve Philadelphia's depth up front.

The importance of team depth in the playoffs was impressed upon the Flyers and Rangers before either team took the ice Thursday. Former Ranger Dale Weise, a fourth-line forward who saw limited ice time playing for Tortorella with the Vancouver Canucks before being traded on Feb. 3, scored in overtime Wednesday in the Montreal Canadiens' 5-4 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Weise is a good player. That's a depth guy for them working his way up and getting more minutes. It's not one of their top three or four names, but it takes 20 guys," said fourth-line center Brian Boyle, who played with Weise in New York. "We watch all the playoff games. On a playoff team, depth is going to be important. We need to be effective."

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