As an appetizer to Superbowl XLVI, the Rangers’ Winter Classic rematch against the Flyers did not disappoint by any measure.
After downing Philadelphia in the first three meetings of the season, the Rangers continued the domination over their Atlantic Division rivals with a 5-2 win that had the raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden taunting, “You Can’t Beat Us!" in the waning moments.
Do the Rangers take some pride in a 4-0 series edge?
You bet they do.
“The rivalry’s been huge the past couple of years,” said defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who earned the Broadway Hat with his go-ahead goal in the third period. “Them knocking us out of the playoffs two years ago in the last game of the season and with “24/7” and HBO [leading up to the Winter Classic] it just amped up even more this year.
“I speak for everyone on the team [that] we’re pretty excited when we see these guys on the calendar.”
Artem Anisimov snapped an 18-game goal drought with a three-point performance, Marian Gaborik tallied his team-leading 26th goal of the season and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist recorded his 24th win of the season to help the team retain their lead in the Eastern Conference standings.
But Sunday wasn’t about individual performances.
Much like the first trio of games, the Rangers relied upon their hard-nosed, blue-collar identity to prevail past a Philadelphia squad with plenty of salt and snarl.
Eight fighting majors and a combined 72 penalty minutes were dished out in a chippy game that had a playoff-level atmosphere.
“Tough games against rivals like that, we always find a way to come play,” said Brandon Dubinsky, who finished with a fight and a goal. “We don’t have to hype each other up and get rah-rah in here. Each guy knows how tough it’s going to be and how important it’s going to be.”
That physicality has been something the Rangers have relished, an element that seems to produce their best performances of the season, often against the best teams.
“Everyone in the room knows it’s gonna be a battle every time we play these guys,” said rugged defenseman Stu Bickel. “We’ve come out on top and everyone today was ready to go ready to play, right from the start."
Bickel, who remained in the lineup instead of recently-cleared Steve Eminger, boosted the Blueshirts with two entertaining scraps against a pair of Philly’s Most Wanted.
After a wild slugfest against Wayne Simmonds in the first, Bickel dropped the gloves for the second time in the third, taking on tough guy Tom Sestito at 2:13.
Coach John Tortorella said he gave Bickel “high marks” for his gutsy effort and Bickel’s teammates echoed the sentiment.
“We joke around in here a lot that he’s never going to shy away from an opportunity to get five minutes. He’s tough,” Dubinsky said. “He’s a guy that’s come in here and earned a job. He’s been great for us. You can’t ask for anything more from a teammate than a guy that steps up to the plate and puts his body on the line every night.”
With the win, what many fans hope is the first of two for New York on Super Bowl Sunday, the Rangers remain three points ahead of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
All with their hard-nosed, blue-collar reputation intact.
“We’re a sum of parts. That’s how we play,” Tortorella said. “I thought we handled ourselves very well.”