VOORHEES – The Stanley Cup playoffs aren’t scheduled to start for another six weeks or so but if you’re looking for postseason atmosphere, just watch the Flyers play the Rangers on Sunday, 12 noon (NBC), at Madison Square Garden.
Having just already squared off against the Rangers about 38 hours before Sunday’s opening faceoff, there should be plenty of emotion to fuel this one.
The Flyers handily defeated the Rangers, 5-2, on Friday night and in the process took out one of their best players, winger Chris Kreider, who suffered a broken foot by way of a Philippe Myers shot.
At Saturday’s practice, coach Alain Vigneault announced that Carter Hart will start in goal for the Flyers.
Apparently Hart’s performance in last week’s come-from-behind victory at Columbus impressed Vigneault enough to use Hart rather than his unofficial “designated’’ road goalie, Brian Elliott.
As it stands, Hart is still only 3-10-1 on the road with a 3.88 goals-against average and .855 save percentage.
The Flyers, who moved into second place in the Metro Division after Pittsburgh’s loss at Anaheim on Friday night, have pulled within three points of Washington for the division lead. Winners of five in a row, the Flyers are playing like an inspired bunch.
Meanwhile, the Rangers had their five-game overall and franchise-record nine-game road win streaks brought to an end. They’re just two points out of a playoff spot, so they have a lot on the line, too.
Several Flyers said playing the same team twice in such a short time can almost make it feel like a playoff series.
“There’s definitely a different feel when you have that,’’ van Riemsdyk said after the workout. “Especially when there are two games back-to-back and you don’t have any team in between.
“We had that last week with Columbus (the Flyers swept). . .you get a little more of that animosity so I guess that makes these games even more fun to play in.’’
With the game being shown on national television, it just lends itself to a higher level of scrutiny. Neither team wants to give ground when so many people are watching and judging.
“I thought the pace in last night’s game was pretty good,’’ Laughton said. “It was really, really high paced. I think the intensity of the game and the way guys were competing – it’s going to be fun to play that afternoon game. I think the guys are excited. Another chance to build on this (streak) and go up in the standings.’’
Vigneault spoke to the players during the practice about proper preparation. Unleashing a group of young men on Manhattan on Saturday night can sometimes raise a few red flags.
“I just wanted to remind the guys it’s a different process with a 12 o’clock game,’’ Vigneault said. “Just wanted to make sure that everyone knows what they have to do to get ready for an early afternoon game.’’
So stay out of Manhattan?
“I would recommend that,’’ said a smiling Vigneault, who previously coached the Rangers in New York. “Even though it’s a beautiful place to visit.’’
If things break right, the Flyers could be playing for first place when they visit Washington on Wednesday. But there’s not a lot of scoreboard watching, insists van Riemsdyk.
“We can’t afford to be complacent,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “You’re a few points from first but you’re only five points (inside the playoff bubble). You can’t really afford to take your foot off the gas.’’
Added Vigneault: “I think that’s one thing our team has done well, stayed in the moment, stayed focused on the task at hand. In our business, tomorrow is to get ready for the Rangers and play the right way. You don’t want to be caught thinking about the next game (in D.C.).”
>’Ghost’ getting antsy
Shayne Gostisbehere has successfully completed rehab from knee surgery but with the Flyers on a five-game win streak, it’s tough to crack the lineup.
That said, Gostisbehere is starting to get anxious to play again. He’s played in only one game since mid-January.
“It’s easy to fall into that and say, ‘hey guys, I’m still here.’ But right now we’re rolling,’’ Gostisbehere said. “We’re in a playoff, we’re in a spot where we can even get some home ice.
“When my number is called, I’ll be ready. I feel like I’m a hundred percent now for sure. I felt good down with the Phantoms (on rehab assignment). Just waiting for my opportunity.’’
>NHL contacts Flyers about coronavirus
Vigneault disclosed the Flyers (along with all NHL teams) received a message from the NHL regarding precautions for the threat of the coronavirus.
“We received a memo from the NHL, given to (director of sports medicine) Jimmy (McCrossin),’’ Vigneault said. “I think Jimmy distributed it around to players and staff. Washing your hands, stuff like that.’’