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: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).