At a glance: After much anticipation, the puck is finally set to drop on what promises to be a compelling first-round matchup when the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Thursday night (7 ET).
And there will be no need to wait until later in the series for hatred to fester, given the animosity that already exists between the two bitter Metropolitan Division rivals. The big story of the series so far is the Flyers’ loss of starting goaltender Steve Mason, at least for Game 1. Backup goalie Ray Emery will start for Philadelphia as it tries to spoil the Rangers’ playoff home opener at MSG.
Super sub? Emery will be the man between the pipes for Philly, and here’s why that’s not such a bad thing for the Flyers: The 31-year-old has posted a 7-2-0 record in 10 career games against the Rangers and has ample playoff experience in previous years with the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks. And though he did not make any postseason appearances last spring, he still has a good idea of what it takes to win hockey’s ultimate prize. Let’s not forget, after all, that his name is on the Stanley Cup alongside his 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks teammates. Of the team’s confidence in Emery, coach Craig Berube said: “Ray’s won a lot of big games. He really enjoys the challenge.”
How long Emery may be holding down the fort remains to be seen. In Thursday’s pregame press briefing, Berube said that Mason is “doing better” with the upper-body injury he sustained Saturday and will join the Flyers in New York on Friday. Whether he will be available for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon has not yet been determined.
Emotions in check: It’s no secret that the sort of contempt between these two teams will make for a heated, emotional series. But for the Rangers to prevail, they’ll need to remain disciplined. Why? The Flyers boast the league’s best power play on the road with a dazzling 25.2 percent success rate.
Mac attack: The Rangers will have top defenseman Ryan McDonagh patrolling their blue line for the first time since he suffered a left shoulder injury on April 1. McDonagh said he has “no restrictions” with his shoulder and is eager to jump back into the lineup after sitting out the past five games. McDonagh and his defensive partner, Dan Girardi, will likely draw the task of trying to contain the Flyers’ top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. He’s proved himself up to the challenge before. Said Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds: “He’s one of the toughest guys to play against. He just has a poise about him.” Asked whether the Flyers will make an increased effort to finish their checks against him, knowing that he is coming off an injury, Simmonds said: “You don’t want to harm anyone, but we have to do our jobs and be physical.”