While another team from their city will be preparing for a certain big game in another sport Sunday, the New York Rangers will have an important contest of their own earlier in the day at Madison Square Garden.
New York will try for a sixth straight win - and fourth in a row this season - over its closest pursuer in the Atlantic Division when it meets the Philadelphia Flyers for the first time since the Winter Classic.
The Super Bowl will be on the minds of most New Yorkers when the Rangers (32-12-5) and their standout goaltender Henrik Lundqvist take the ice.
Lundqvist extended his scoreless streak to 150:45 and posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time in his career Wednesday as the Rangers beat Buffalo 1-0 in a shootout. Lundqvist has allowed five goals over his last five games and helped New York to a 3-0-1 record over its last four.
“If you want to get to where you want to be, you need goaltending like that,” coach John Tortorella said. “He’s certainly provided that.”
Lundqvist has also played a large part in the Rangers’ five consecutive wins over the Flyers (30-15-6) - who trail New York by three points in the division - allowing a total of six goals in those games. He made 34 saves during New York’s 3-2 victory in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2, including a key stop of Danny Briere’s penalty shot with 19.6 seconds left.
“It’s a great matchup and to play against them is always a challenge,” Lundqvist said. “So far we have been able to play really well against them, but they’re going to come even harder now to try and get the first one against us in this series. We have to be ready.”
Briere and James van Riemsdyk are now sidelined indefinitely due to concussions, but Philadelphia has managed to earn points in five of its last six games, going 3-1-2. The lone regulation defeat came Saturday, when the Flyers allowed three goals in each of the first two periods and fell 6-4 at home to New Jersey.
They attempted to rally by outshooting the Devils 24-1 and scoring four times over the final 20 minutes, though they ultimately came up short.
“To their credit, the guys came out and played hard in the third period,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “But you can’t walk out of here and feel good.”
He lost 4-2 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 23, his only game against New York in a Flyers uniform.
He might have a difficult time outdueling Lundqvist, who is 7-2-0 with a 1.69 goals-against average in his last nine home matchups with Philadelphia and has shut out the Flyers in two of the last three Rangers wins at MSG in this series. One of those was a 2-0 victory Nov. 26, when Lundqvist made 29 saves.
“We got to make sure we play our best game. It’s not easy to play in Madison Square Garden,” Flyers center Claude Giroux said. “Hopefully, guys get excited for it and we play the way we played in the third period (Saturday).”