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.
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.