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Rangers look to make most of home ice vs. Flyers

Wednesday - 4/16/2014, 5:07pm  ET

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2014 file photo, Philadelphia Flyers' Steve Mason faces the action during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders, in Philadelphia. Mason practiced for only 15 minutes because of an upper-body injury and there's a chance the Flyers will start their playoff series against the Rangers without their No. 1 goalie. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek, File)

IRA PODELL
AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- 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.

The Rangers haven't come out on top since a 3-2 series win in the 1986 Patrick Division semifinals, eight years before New York broke its 54-year Stanley Cup title drought.

"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."

Despite not winning in two tries this season in Philadelphia, the Rangers were 25-14-2 on the road, and 20-17-4 at home.

"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."

The Flyers have won three straight from the Rangers in Philadelphia and dropped eight in a row at the Garden. Philadelphia's last win in Manhattan was Feb. 20, 2011.

"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."

Game 2 is Sunday in New York before the series shifts to Philadelphia for games on Tuesday and Friday.

Here are five things to look for in the latest installment of this close-quarters rivalry:

MINDING THE NETS: The Rangers have no concerns in goal with Lundqvist, who set club records this season for career wins and shutouts. The Flyers already have issues as No. 1 netminder Steve Mason hasn't recovered yet from an upper-body injury sustained last weekend in a collision against Pittsburgh, and will miss at least the series opener, coach Craig Berube said Wednesday. So Ray Emery will be the first to face the Rangers on Thursday. Emery was 9-12-2 with a 2.96 goals-against average in 28 games. He is 7-2 with a 1.87 GAA and .936 save percentage in 10 career games against the Rangers, but lost 4-1 to them on Jan. 12. Mason was 2-1 with a 2.01 GAA and .937 save percentage in three starts against New York.

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