Getting to know the enemy: Four under-the-radar Rangers the Flyers have to keep in check

Getting to know the enemy: Four under-the-radar Rangers the Flyers have to keep in check

Leading into Game 1 tonight between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, here’s a look at four under-the-radar Rangers – ok, well, three players and one inanimate object – that the Flyers will have to keep in check in order to ensure success in the series.

You won’t see star goalie Henrik Lundqvist or star winger Rick Nash on this list because it’s fairly obvious that the Flyers will have to get in Lundqvist’s face in the crease and not let Nash take over on the offensive end.

Winger Mats Zuccarello

Take a wild guess at who led the Rangers in points over the course of the regular season. You would have never guessed the diminutive Norwegian winger, would you?

Zuccarello’s 59 points – 19 goals and 40 assists – in 77 games paced a balanced Rangers attack during the regular season.

He’s a versatile player that can play on almost any line and find success. He’s a shifty puck handler with a knack for setting up his teammates from his wing position.

Zuccarello sees regular time on both of the Rangers’ special team units. His four power-play goals tied him for third on a Rangers team that finished with a middle-of-the-pack power play but was much more dangerous before a late-season slump. He also had one of the Rangers’ 10 shorthanded goals, third-most in the league. That penalty kill finished as the fourth-best penalty kill in the NHL.

If you’re looking for a familiar comparable, think Flyers winger Matt Read, except that Read is more of a pure scorer whereas Zuccarello is more of a facilitator. Both can play on any line and both can play well at either end of the ice.

Zuccarello is expected to be on the Rangers’ second line with fellow winger Benoit Puliot and center Derick Brassard.

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh

You may remember McDonagh from the Sochi Olympic tournament where he was arguably the Americans’ best defenseman.

He hasn’t been arguably the Rangers’ best defenseman all year long. He’s without a doubt been the Rangers’ best defenseman all year long. And he won’t be under-the-radar to Flyers fans for long.

The 24-year-old, two-way defenseman has enjoyed a breakout season on the Rangers’ top defensive pairing alongside Dan Girardi. He’s been tasked with shutting down the opposition’s best player night in and night out and has excelled. You may remember the last meeting between the Flyers and Rangers when he smothered Claude Giroux the entire night and helped force Giroux into one of his worst games of the season.

McDonagh also scored 14 goals and posted 29 assists during the regular season so he’s more than capable of getting the job done at both ends of the ice.

But keeping McDonagh in check isn’t about him putting up offensive numbers in this series. It’s about keeping him away from Giroux as much as possible.

It will be tough to do at MSG since the Rangers get the last change, but Flyers head coach Craig Berube has to play the matchup game as much as he can to keep Giroux away from McDonagh.

Those two going at one another might be the key matchup of the series.

One thing to remember is McDonagh missed recent games with a shoulder injury so the Flyers should target him physically and find out if he really is 100 percent.

Winger Marty St. Louis

Really? St. Louis is an under-the-radar player?

For his career, not at all. He’s s star player. There are a multitude of reasons he has accolades such as a Hart Trophy for league MVP, two Art Ross Trophies for most points in a season and a Stanley Cup.

All those came when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to this season’s trade deadline.

Since coming to the Rangers at the trade deadline in exchange for then-Ranger captain Ryan Callahan and draft picks, St. Louis has been underwhelming in 19 games with the Blueshirts. In those 19 games, St. Louis has just a single goal and seven assists.

But don’t sleep on St. Louis come playoff time.

For his playoff career, he’s at an over a point-per-game clip with 68 points – 33 goals and 35 assists – in 63 career playoff games.

This is the time of year where veteran guys like St. Louis shine.

At 38-years-old, he’s still incredibly dangerous and even more so on the Rangers’ top line with Nash and Derek Stepan.

Forget about his numbers during the regular season with the Rangers. It’s a brand new slate now.

Madison Square Garden’s Ice

Madison Square Garden is known as “The World’s Most Famous Arena” for a ton of reasons.

Assuredly, one of those reasons is not its ice surface.

The Garden is notorious around the NHL for having one of the league’s worst ice surfaces. It’s known to wear down rather quickly and create awful puck bounces and overall sloppy play.

And that’s even with the crazy, billion-dollar renovations that have been done there.

New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur ripped the Garden’s ice surface during the 2012 Eastern Conference Final, saying it wasn’t very good. He also complained about the boards and the glass at MSG.

The Garden’s ice is what it is. It can’t be changed.

The Flyers have to be prepared for those kooky puck bounces and the effects they can cause. That means there will be an onus on better passing and crisp puck movement.

 

The time for talking ends in just a few hours. Puck drops at 7 p.m. tonight on CSN. It will also be on CNBC for those of you outside the local Philly viewing area.

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).