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April 16, 2014 | 9:51am ET
Rangers in tough against Flyers
 Statistics seem to suggest the Rangers will have an edge over the Flyers in the first-round of the playoffs.

NEW YORK, NY -- There's been a sense of palpable hatred brewing for the past four decades between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. In a day of rivalry narratives seemingly being ripped from the Hallmark Channel to pump up ratings and fill seats, it's sort of refreshing, no?

So, the battle of I-95, Amtrak or Megabus, if you will, between two teams with equally up-and-down regular seasons, is set to commence with no clear-cut favorite.

The most intriguing story on this series stands at completely opposite ends of the rink, encapsulating by metal piping and mesh netting.

Steve Mason, 25, has been solid, if unspectacular for the Philadelphia Flyers, whom defensively have left a lot to be desired since the departure of Chris Pronger.

Mason sits comfortably in the middle of the pack for goaltenders that have started a minimum of 41 games, at 13th in overall save percentage and 14th in even strength save percentage, per Extra Skater. That's a lifetime better than his last few years in Columbus, where he barely pull his save percentage off of the .900 mark.

He will need to be better in this series, as the Rangers have the ability to amass a ton of shots very quickly.

The guy occupying the other crease needs to change the narrative too, before it's too late.

Henrik Lundqvist, whose down-year still placed him seventh in even strength and all situation save percentage (minimum 41 games) has gap on his resume. The 32-year-old Swedish netminder has won a Vezina Trophy, Olympic gold and silver, but is yet to compete for the ultimately prize, a Stanley Cup. The glue holding the window in place is losing viscosity and it's slowly sliding closed for Lundqvist, who like everyone, is grows a year older every season.

Lundqvist has spent the past few weeks readying himself for the playoffs and has been playing some of his best hockey of late.

"You want to get good habits and you want to try to play the game you want to play next week," he said after the Rangers 4-1 win against Carolina Hurricanes on April 8.

"You don't want to change anything, your approach or your focus on the details, it needs to be here now and it needs to be there next week. You can't take any shortcuts."

The Rangers have the semi-obvious edge, as Lundqvist has a multitude of playoff experience, albeit on some bad teams. For Lundqvist, the shots have turned up, but just slightly. Two seasons ago, the Rangers faced 27.3 shots against per game at 5-on-5, with the score close. Last season they were even tighter defensively, facing 26.8 shots against per game in the same situation. This season, that number has risen to 28.7 shots against per game under the same measure.

Score close, by definition, eliminates score effects to help predict future success better.

According to Extra Skater's glossary, score effects are, "...game situations where the score is tied in any period or within one goal in the first or second periods."

The sharper goalie will be a huge key in this series.

As we have seen in the past, 4-7 games is not a huge sample size, so the better goalie is not always going to play better.

Defensively, the Rangers have the clear edge, if everyone is healthy.

They give up less shot-attempts per game and work well as a five-man unit, no matter whom is thrown out there by Head Coach Alain Vigneault. The Flyers have an x-factor that could be huge for them this series, though, especially if the Rangers keep their top-end talent together on a line, and that's Sean Couturier.

Couturier is a talented, two-way forward that has the penchant to eliminate talented offensive players. He's like the shutdown corner the Philadelphia Eagles thought they signed in Nnamdi Asomugha. Home ice advantage for the Rangers guarantees at least four games of playing keep away from Couturier.

Offensively, the Flyers have the ability to do something with consistency that the Rangers have struggled with all year: convert.

The Rangers, ranked 26th in shooting percentage, this season, while the Flyers ranked 9th. There's a lot of luck involved there, but anyone that's watched the Rangers this season can tell you that they are a team full of passers and high possession players, without a lot of shooters.

They will need all four lines to control play and keep the puck in the offensive zone.

For the Flyers, their top talented forwards will need to be as good as advertised. They will also have to play extremely disciplined hockey, while maintaining a physical edge.

Something that probably won't happen, but the Rangers should greatly consider, is having Marc Staal, the now fully healthy shut down defenseman with arms that stretch for miles, shadow Claude Giroux, who has turned his game around 180 degrees from turning into a social media meme when the season was still in its infantile stage.

Of course, it's more likely that the tandem of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh -- if his health is a non-factor -- will be on the ice against Giroux whenever possible.

Both teams need strong performances from their top-end talent, as this game, like all, will be won with pucks in nets and not knuckles knocking against jaws.

From an analytical perspective, the Rangers have look to be the favorite to take a close series.

They are second in overall shots for, and fifth in shot attempts percentage, a metric used to predict future success and give a look into the puck possession aspect of the game. The Flyers are 14th and 13th in those same statistics, respectively.

Of course, this game will be played on the ice and not on paper, so those numbers can't account for a the way a puck will bounce, a top-end talent going cold and a goaltender forgetting how to stop a puck.

That's, of course, what makes the playoffs excited: that small sample size.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.
 

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