Last 10 Games
The Flyers stumbled just a bit in their last ten games registering a 4-6 mark with wins over Toronto, Buffalo, Florida and Pittsburgh. Yes, it was the victory on the road at the Igloo in Pittsburgh that should give Flyers fans hope. But the downside is that they could not compete against the mettle of the league in dropping games to St. Louis and a pair to the Bruins. Indeed they also lost to playoff caliber teams such as Tampa Bay and Columbus while closing out the season to also-ran Carolina via a 6-5 defeat by way of shootout.
The Rangers on the other hand went 6-4 over their last ten games and notched a 3-1 victory over the Flyers in the process back on March 26th. Unfortunately, they dropped a defensive battle to the Canadiens in a 1-0 overtime thriller. But it must be noted that New York's six victories down the home stretch came over all non-playoff teams except the 6th seeded Flyers.
The teams have split the season series at two games apiece with each recording victories on their home ice. This may prove to be a vital factor in determining our NHL picks for this matchup as the Blueshirts will see their home ice in a game seven if it goes that far. Many believe that it will in fact be a struggle to the bitter end and if so, New York will have a distinct advantage.
How These Teams Stack
The Rangers have the goaltending in former Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist and have a solid defensive corps to boot. However, their offense has been stagnant at times and the addition of former Lightning star Martin St. Louis has not produced the anticipated results. However, St. Louis's last two games generated four assists which may be a good omen for the Rangers that their coveted prize at the trading deadline may be finally getting comfortable at the right time. They will also need help from top goal scorer Rick Nash who virtually disappeared against the Boston Bruins in their second round ouster last season.
As for the Flyers, neither their defense nor their goaltending can compare to their rivals but their offense led by team captain Claude Giroux coupled with an injection of talented youngsters in Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek (Giroux is the old man at 26) is well worth watching. The Flyers have the speed and finesse to make this an interesting series as well as a nifty power play unit that ranks 7th in the NHL.
But let's talk about the Flyers goaltending for a moment. Steve Mason registered a 2.50 GAA while notching a reasonable .917 save percentage. However his playoff history has not been good though that did come in his rookie campaign with an inexperienced Columbus squad where he lost all four postseason games. But he is more mature and seasoned than he was back then, providing an effective, though unspectacular, presence in net for the Flyers. Mason was involved in a collision on Saturday night that saw him replaced by backup Ray Emery but he is expected to be okay for Thursday night's clash.
Speaking of second fiddle Ray Emery, it should be noted that Flyers head coach Craig Berube will probably put Mason on a short leash if he goes off the reservation. Ray Emery has had stellar success against the Rangers, amassing a 7-2 career record complemented by a 1.87 GAA and a sublime .936 save percentage. Expect Emery to get a quick tap on the shoulder if Mason gets lit up.
Free NHL Pick
I believe fans and punters alike will be surprised by the offensive production of the Rangers. They will break the Flyers defense and their will to win as a result. Lundqvist has seen more talented offenses than the one Philadelphia will sport in this series and I am convinced the Blueshirts will cruise.
NHL Pick: New York Rangers -145 in NHL odds at Bet365.com as they win this series 4-1.