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Five keys to the Rangers-Flyers first-round playoff series

Marc Staal of the Rangers defends against Sean

Marc Staal of the Rangers defends against Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

1. Injuries

Except for Chris Kreider, who had surgery on his left hand March 28 and likely will miss this series, the Rangers are pretty healthy. Center Derick Brassard, who tweaked his back during practice on Tuesday, is ready to go and defenseman Ryan McDonagh is rested and healed after sitting out the last five games with a shoulder problem. That's not the case for the Flyers, who will start backup goaltender Ray Emery in Game 1 because Steve Mason, who racked up 33 wins, is sidelined with what appears to be a head or neck injury. He will not travel with the team to New York and his status for Game 2 is uncertain. Emery was 9-12-2 this season, with a 2.96 GAA and a .903 save percentage. He made 31 saves in a 4-1 Flyers' loss at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 12.

2. Goal mouth presence

Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi should have their hands full with the tough, big bodies in front, especially Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell, whose aim is to screen Henrik Lundqvist. "They're not afraid to try to throw pucks at the net and crash," McDonagh said. If Lundqvist, who plays deep in the crease, is allowed to see the first shot, he can control rebounds. At the other end of the ice, the Blueshirts need to pounce on loose pucks and force Emery, who can be vulnerable moving side to side, to make multiple saves. The Rangers will need Rick Nash and the surprisingly effective Benoit Pouliot to find space for tip-ins and deflections.

3. Star power

The team's veteran scorers, Martin St. Louis (29 goals), Nash (26) and Brad Richards (20), need to hit the scoresheet often. Richards and Nash totaled two goals last spring. For the Flyers, Claude Giroux, who finished third in the NHL in scoring, can be a difference-maker, and Vincent Lecavalier, centering the fourth line, could be a factor against the third defense pair. "They like that extra pass, Giroux especially," said Lundqvist, who has been at the top of his game down the stretch. "You just have to be ready for anything. They're a little like Pittsburgh."

4. Special teams

In what is expected to be an intense, emotional series -- although not as wild as the days of the Broad Street Bullies -- there should be frequent visits to the penalty box. Power plays and kills could swing the momentum. Zac Rinaldo, who had 153 penalty minutes in 67 games, is expected to start Game 1. It is unclear how much time the Rangers' Dan Carcillo will get in the series. One matchup to watch: The Flyers were first in the NHL on road power plays (25.2 percent); the Rangers' penalty-kill finished third overall. The Flyers' PK was seventh.

5. Winning on the road

The Rangers led the East in victories away from home with 25, and although they have home-ice advantage, a win at Wells Fargo Center -- or a Flyers' triumph at Madison Square Garden -- could tilt the series. The Flyers have won three in a row against the Rangers in Philadelphia; the Blueshirts have beaten them eight straight at the Garden.

Prediction: If Mason is out for several games, this could be over sooner, but . . . Rangers in 7

New York Sports