Inside the Flyers: Controlled intensity needed vs. Rangers

Tye McGinn (15) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins' Brandon Sutter (16) in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, April 12, 2014. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

PITTSBURGH - Flyers and Lightning fans were playfully chanting back and forth during Thursday's game in Tampa Bay, Fla., trying to out-insult each other.

At one point, Lightning fans started a mocking chant: "1975! 1975!"

That, of course, was the last time the Flyers won the Stanley Cup.

The drought figures to be extended, because even if the Flyers get past the Rangers in the opening round, and even if they win in the second round against (in all probability) the Penguins, they are no match for the Bruins.


Who would be a better first-round playoff matchup for the Flyers?

But, hey, it's the spring, and they can dream. And wasn't it just four years ago that no one gave them a chance, and they found themselves within two wins of hoisting the Stanley Cup?

"That's one season that's over now," coach Craig Berube said after the Flyers' 4-3 overtime win Saturday over their proverbial punching bag, Pittsburgh, enabled them to clinch a first-round playoff matchup against the New York Rangers. "The other one starts Thursday. The intensity level has to really rise [with] every player. You have to understand when the playoffs roll around, the intensity is magnified by 100, and our team has to raise that level of intensity."

There is a fine line, of course, between playing with an edge and playing over the edge. Play with intensity, but play with smarts, because the Flyers and Rangers look so evenly matched that the series could be decided on power plays.

"My job is to get us focused in and get us ready," said Berube, who will have to decide whether sometimes-undisciplined winger Steve Downie deserves to be in the lineup. "You don't want to be emotionally out of control. That's not the way to play hockey. You have to keep your emotions in check, but the intensity has to come way up."

That's what makes the Stanley Cup playoffs so fascinating, so intriguing. It's not every game but every shift that is critical.

"We need to really skate and get on them," Berube said. "To me, we didn't skate tonight, and when you don't skate, you don't play well."

Berube said he has no theories as to why the Flyers can't seem to lose in Pittsburgh - they are 9-1-1 in regular-season games since the Consol Energy Center opened - and why they can't win at Madison Square Garden, where they have lost eight straight.

"That's just the way it goes some times," said Berube, who rested defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Nick Grossmann on Saturday but will have them in the lineup against the Rangers. "It's just a mental block, and we need to forget about that and go play."

"I remember the Edmonton Oilers couldn't beat us in the '80s in our building, either, until we got to the playoffs," said former Flyer Mark Howe, the Detroit Red Wings' pro scouting director. "Once the season ends and it's the playoffs, it's a whole new game."

The prevailing theory is that New York - which will rely heavily on the series' best defenseman, Ryan McDonagh - will have a huge advantage in goal because of Henrik Lundqvist.

That may happen, but it should be noted that Flyers goalies Steve Mason and Ray Emery actually have better career numbers against the Rangers than Lundqvist has against the Orange and Black.

Mason, who was injured in the second period Saturday but is expected to face the Rangers, is 4-1-1 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .928 save percentage against New York, while Emery is 7-2 with a 1.87 GAA and .936 save percentage. Lundqvist is 27-13-3 in his career against the Flyers, with a 2.49 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

Broad Street vs. Broadway. In franchise history, the Flyers have won six of the 10 playoff series against New York, including the last one between the teams in 1997.

"The team that ends up winning will be the team that manages the puck the best," Howe said. "It may come down to winning one faceoff, one tip-in."

He paused.

"This should be a long series."

And, the Flyers hope, one in which they don't hear mocking "1975" chants echoing around Madison Square Garden at the series' end.