NEW YORK — It’s Broadway vs. Broad Street for the first time in 17 years.
It doesn’t matter if these longtime rivals are in the Patrick, Atlantic, or newly formed Metropolitan Division, when the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers clash, it is every bit of a backyard brawl.
The Rangers come into the latest best-of-seven, first-round playoff series with a bit of an edge, having secured home-ice advantage by finishing second in the Metropolitan — two points ahead of the third-place Flyers.
“We’ve been on a playoff push here for quite some time,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of his club that went 10-3-1 record in 14 games before the season finale, in which many regulars sat out. “We’ve been playing under pressure, we’ve responded real well in the big games. That’s why we were able to get in. Now we’ve got to continue.”
New York will try to make the most of its late-season surge to second place right away in Game 1 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. It might take a while to figure out how important playing at home is, but these clubs split four games this season in their home rinks, so the Rangers should certainly feel most comfortable if this series goes the distance, and Game 7 is back in Manhattan.
“Game 1 is the most important game we’re going to play,” Vigneault said. “Both teams want to get off on the right foot. If you look at all the comparisons — power play, penalty-killing, five on five, goaltending — there is so little separating us.
“It’s going to come down to good preparation on our part and the players’ part. It’s going to come down to the players going out and executing. I believe we’re going through the right process right now, and I really believe our guys want to win.
This will be the 11th time these rivals meet in the postseason, and Philadelphia has won six of the first 10 meetings — including the last three, most recently a five-game triumph in the 1997 Eastern Conference finals.
“Playing against Washington all these years in the playoffs was just fun,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “We definitely built a playoff rivalry. When it comes to New York-Philly, the rivalry is always there. It will be special for us and for the fans.”
“It’s big,” New York defenseman Marc Staal said of home-ice advantage. “It’s something that we were looking at near the end of the season. Especially in the playoffs, your home rink needs to be a place where you’re tough to play against, and we will be that way.
“You’re always excited to play in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. But it’s exciting that that’s the matchup. It’s going to be tough, but we’re looking forward to it.”
“We are due in Madison Square Garden,” Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said. “It’s a tough building to play in. We are due to win some game there. You hope this is the right timing.”