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Stakes high in Rangers-Flyers match

by John McGourty
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers are well aware of the stakes in Thursday night's matchup.

The Atlantic Division rivals are fighting for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth and both teams are on the brink of not qualifying. The Rangers currently hold sixth place in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of the ninth-place Flyers. Complicating matter, the New York Islanders, another Atlantic Division rival, are in eighth place, three points behind the Rangers and a point ahead of the Flyers.

"When you are playing a team in front of you, it's important," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We put ourselves in a tough position. We're still not in the playoffs. But when you play the teams that are right in front of you, you've got to beat them."

The teams have split their two meetings this season, the Rangers winning, 2-1, on Dec. 19 in Philadelphia when Henrik Lundqvist made 36 saves and the Flyers turning the tables, 6-0, in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 30.

"It was a pretty good hockey game the last time they were in here," Laviolette said. "It went up and down. It was pretty tight defensively. They seem to be playing pretty well right now and I think we're playing a little bit better too."

"The Rangers-Flyers series is always pretty intense, pretty physical. We don't expect anything less tonight." -- Flyers forward Blair Betts

Marian Gaborik, who leads the Rangers with 29 goals and 36 assists, said he's well aware that the Flyers have scored the first goal in 12 of their past 13 games. He said the Rangers have to come out ready to play.

"Play hard and work hard, that's the way to play against these guys," Gaborik said. "We have to be ready right from the start, come out and be strong. We can't look at how they are playing, we have to set the tempo. They're at home and if they can take the lead, they can dictate the game. That's what happened last time, they got three first-period goals."

Flyers center Blair Betts played for the Rangers last season, then signed with the Flyers as a free agent this summer.

"The personnel on that team has changed quite a bit," Betts said. "Over half the players are new this year. The Rangers-Flyers series is always pretty intense, pretty physical," Betts said. "We don't expect anything less tonight."
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