Rangers top Flyers in 'Classic' tuneup

New York Rangers' Anton Stralman checks Philadelphia Flyers' New York Rangers' Anton Stralman checks Philadelphia Flyers' Matt Read into the boards in the first period. (Dec. 23, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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The next time the Rangers and Flyers meet, they will do so in a new city in a new year and under new circumstances: the great outdoors Jan. 2 in the NHL Winter Classic in Philadelphia.

But for Friday night, it was enough for the Rangers to dispatch their counterparts in the familiar, properly roofed confines of Madison Square Garden.

For the second time this season, they beat the Flyers in New York -- this time by 4-2 -- to move into first place in the Atlantic Division. (They won the teams' Nov. 26 meeting, 2-0.)

It was the Rangers' fourth victory in a row overall, their third in four nights against division rivals and a most satisfying way to go into a Christmas mini-break.

"They should feel good about themselves,'' coach John Tortorella said, even as he downplayed the significance of being in first place at this stage.

"None, none,'' he said. "I'm happy the way we're playing, happy we're grabbing some points here early, but they don't give out playoff bids and all that stuff on Dec. 23.''

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The teams put on a spirited show for fans and for cameras recording their every move for HBO's "24/7" series, generating as close to a springlike atmosphere as is realistic before New Year's Day.

Said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan: "It's a playoff-style game, with the crowd into it, and we've got the HBO cameras. If you can't get up for this type of game, you shouldn't be playing.''

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (28 saves) added, "Everything you're looking for in a game, I think you had it tonight.''

For the Rangers, that included two nifty tip-ins for second-period goals, the first by Derek Stepan and the second by Ruslan Fedotenko.

Both goals came off long shots by Stu Bickel, who has four assists in three career games.

Stepan's goal was reviewed as a potential high stick but was allowed. Fedotenko's initially was ruled no goal, but a review clearly showed it hit a support inside the net and bounced out.

The Rangers took control early in the third when Marian Gaborik broke in alone on Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, beating him low to his stick side at 1:48 for his NHL-leading 21st goal.

Gaborik appeared to hurt his left shoulder on the play. He winced upon returning to the bench, but Tortorella insisted after the game that Gaborik is "fine.''

The deficit sparked the Flyers, who peppered Lundqvist with shots. They finally broke through when Andrej Meszaros scored on a long slap shot with 9:39 left in the third.

Callahan restored order for the Rangers when he flipped in a rebound to make it 4-1.

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There were two fights in the game. The Flyers' Jaromir Jagr lamented that "we had all of our skilled guys out of the lineup. We had our tough guys in.''

What is the key to the Rangers' success against the Flyers?

"I think it's just a matter of playing good hockey and playing the way we have to play and not getting too hyped up and over-amped,'' Callahan said. "It's easy to play these guys and get overaggressive and take penalties.''

Should be an interesting afternoon in south Philly come Jan. 2, 2012.

Said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, "I think it builds up for the Winter Classic. We're looking forward to that."

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