Celebrate Hockey Day in America: Bullies-Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden

Celebrate Hockey Day in America: Bullies-Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden

We can all get up for big games against the Penguins, Capitals, Canadiens, Bruins, and the other hated Eastern rivals. But something about Flyers-Rangers games always feels a little more intense to me. The hate may be stronger against the Pens some years, but the vitriol between the Flyers and the team from Manhattan is older, more engrained, and no less bitter. 

The Rangers are an Original Six club, and like the Flyers, have left their logos, colors, and sweaters largely unaltered throughout their history. The franchises are steeped in tradition, if not necessarily Stanley Cup wins, and part of that tradition is this rivalry. On their way to their first Cup win, the Flyers became the first 1967 expansion team to beat an Original Six team in a playoff series, taking down the Rangers in seven games in 1974. There was a new force in American hockey. NHL.com has a great piece on the rivalry, with an eye toward a battle in that seventh game and what that series meant.

Description and vintage video of a classic and defining Blueshirts-Bullies battle below.

The most memorable playoff meeting came in the 1974 semifinals, when the Flyers became the first expansion team to defeat an Original 6 team. The teams were tied, 3-3, going into Game 7 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The game was scoreless midway through the first period when some pushing and shoving near the Rangers' net led to a memorable fight between the Flyers' Dave Schultz and Rangers defenseman Dale Rolfe.

"There was a little altercation in front of their net, he was shoving (Orest) Kindrachuk," Schultz told NHL.com. "And when I came in, he said, 'Oh boy, here comes Schultz.' I wasn't anticipating him dropping his gloves. He wasn't a fighter."

Rolfe was a strapping 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, giving him the size advantage against the 6-1, 185-pound Schultz. But Rolfe wasn't much of a fighter, and it showed against Schultz, who left Rolfe a bloody mess.

Flyers coach Fred Shero told reporters after the game: "That took something out of New York. They didn't do as much hitting after that." The Flyers won the game, 4-3, and then beat Boston to win their first Stanley Cup.

Love it. 

This season, the Flyers own the edge, winning the first three meetings 4-1, 4-1, and 3-2. They're also 15 points up on New York in the struggling Rangers in the division and continuing to pace the East. 

Their loss Friday night in Carolina wasn't a bad one. They had to deal with some unexpected line and lineup shuffling when Mike Richards couldn't go due to injury, which left them with just 11 forwards for the first 4 minutes of the game while Jody Shelley rushed to get from the press box to the locker room, get dressed, and get to the bench. Less than 7 minutes in, the Hurricanes were up 2-0. They'd ultimately win, 3-2.

But the Flyers fought back respectably, and Sergei Bobrovsky settled in quickly after giving up a bad second goal, clamping down the rest of the way. Rick Tocchet pointed out between periods that it was a great test for Bob, and he was passing, showing that a few rough goals early wouldn't rattle him into a bad overall performance. That could be huge come playoff time. 

Sam Carchidi expects Brian Boucher to get the start today though, and why not. Boosh was the man in net when the Flyers backed into the playoffs last year on a shootout win over the Rangers in the 82nd game. That put the Rangers out of the playoffs and the Flyers in, the latest major chapter in this rivalry. I don't think I'll ever forget this. 

Happy Hockey Day in America. Make an event of it. Have your people over if you're not one of the many fans on Amtrak to Penn Station this morning. Get a good afternoon-drunk on if you're of legal age. Get fired up. 

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

DALLAS -- Harrison Barnes scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks ended a three-game losing streak by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 96-83 on Saturday night.

The Pelicans fell to 0-2 since trading for DeMarcus Cousins and pairing him with Anthony Davis.

Davis had 39 points and 14 rebounds but scored only 12 in the second half. Cousins finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Seth Curry scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away. His 3-pointer with 4:49 to play gave the Mavericks an 84-72 lead, and the Pelicans never got closer than six after that (see full recap).

Harden leads Rockets past Timberwolves in 142-130 shootout
HOUSTON -- James Harden had 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 142-130 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves as both teams set season scoring highs in a Saturday night shootout.

Houston won for the sixth time in seven games, handing the Timberwolves their first road loss in more than three weeks.

Minnesota committed a season-high 25 turnovers that led to 38 points for the Rockets.

Playing against Houston's guard-heavy rotation, Minnesota went inside all night and outscored the Rockets 68-44 in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 points and 22 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 30 points (see full recap).

Bulls benefit as James sits with strep, beat Cavs 117-99
CLEVELAND -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points and Jimmy Butler recorded a triple-double, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 117-99 victory Saturday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played without LeBron James.

James missed the game with strep throat, and coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn't sure how long the Cavaliers would be without the four-time MVP. Cleveland struggled as it often does without its star - they are 4-19 without him since he returned to Cleveland in 2014, including 0-4 this season.

Chicago has won all three games against Cleveland this season. It took advantage of James' absence to win its fourth straight overall (see full recap).

George ejected, Heat stay hot with 113-95 win over Pacers
MIAMI -- Paul George had another frustrating night in Miami.

Hassan Whiteside scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Dion Waiters added 22 points and the red-hot Miami Heat pulled away late to beat the Indiana Pacers 113-95 on Saturday night. Miami outscored Indiana 42-22 in the final 16 minutes, all with George watching from the Pacers' locker room after an ejection.

"It felt like a playoff-type game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said (see full recap).

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH – They won the battle inside the faceoff circle. Outshot their opponent badly. Blocked more shots, too.

And the Flyers still lost. Sound familiar?

Saturday's 4-2 defeat (see Instant Replay) to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series outdoor game likely confirms for general manager Ron Hextall it’s time to be a seller at the trade deadline with a playoff berth seemingly out of sight.

"We gotta score goals. We got good opportunities, but it’s getting old," Jakub Voracek lamented. "If we don’t find a way to win a game, nobody cares."

Not enough scoring from their pop-gun offense, which now has just 25 goals over their last 16 games. Which is a major reason why they've lost seven of their last nine.

"It's that cliché, gripping your stick and I don’t like to use that," Voracek said. "The bottom line, if we want to make the playoffs we got to score the goals. We're not scoring."

It was 36 degrees at puck drop and there were swirling wind gusts. Players said the first period was tough, but they adjusted as the game went on.

"It feels good. It feels awesome," Wayne Simmonds said. "It's the way ice hockey should be played."

So should a few wins with this club and it's not happening. They play well enough to win but ...

"We got to get going here," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We're [five] points back and that's the biggest thing and it's in all of our heads now. It's getting down to not a lot of games left and we've got to get two points."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth did not have a strong game facing 29 shots.

"We walk away with the wrong result," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a day in-between to turn the page and get back at it."

Things began Pittsburgh's way with Sidney Crosby scoring at 11:18, sneaking to the low right slot near the goal line to take a perfect pass from Jake Guentzel and one-time into the far side on Neuvirth for his 34th goal.

Brayden Schenn, centering a new line with Nick Cousins and Jakub Voracek, had a solid scoring chance in the final minute of the period, but Pens goalie Matt Murray turned his shot aside. Murray also had two good saves on Sean Couturier earlier from in-tight.

Nick Bonino, one of the heroes from the Stanley Cup Final last season, made it 2-0 at 6:44 of the second period on the power play. He scored almost from the same spot where Crosby scored.

Minutes earlier, Guenztel took a questionable hit to the head area from Brandon Manning which the Penguins felt was illegal (see video). Pittsburgh came back with Chris Kunitz rocking Ivan Provorov two shifts later.

Manning’s hit energized the Flyers, who owned the second period.

Hours before the game, Voracek said what most people were already thinking.

"I would expect this to be the biggest game of the year," he said. "You look at the standings. We can’t afford to lose."

Voracek wasn't kidding when he said the Flyers needed to do something here. He went behind the net 4-on-4 with Justin Schultz and came around the front with the puck to muscle it past Murray at 11:14, cutting the Flyers deficit in half.

Voracek's goal, his second in three games, gave the Flyers even more of a lift and they made a strong push to tie the game before the period ended.

"We spent a lot of time in their zone and we were very strong on the forecheck," Voracek said. "We had comebacks early in the season … but two penalties in the end, it's tough … How do you rebound? You have no choice. We're not out. We have to start winning."

The Flyers killed off a carryover penalty to start the third but immediately after, the Pens got a strong forecheck with Eric Fehr behind the net, getting the puck over to 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who snuck up on Neuvirth and stunned him with a wraparound.

That was a terribly costly goal and made it 3-1 but Gostisbehere got it right back minutes later with his first goal in 34 games off a point shot during the power play.

It was as close as the Flyers got. Pittsburgh scored off a faceoff to make it 4-2 in the final six minutes. Sean Couturier lost a draw to Evgeni Malkin and the Pens scored off a point drive Neuvirth couldn't find.

"That was deflating," Gostisbehere said. "We can be sad for ourselves all we want … bad bounces or we can say, 'well, it's lucky.' But you know, it keeps happening for a reason."