Philadelphia Flyers: Rivalry with Rangers needs reviving

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

As the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers renew acquaintances tonight for their 297th regular season meeting, the game will serve as a reminder of a once-fierce rivalry that needs some new juice.

For the first few decades of Philadelphia Flyers team history, no opposing team got the blood boiling as hot or as quickly as the New York Rangers.

The Philly-NYC rivalry was a natural fit right from the start, and things locked firmly into place during the clubs’ epic 1974 semifinal series, which the Flyers won in seven games.

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Thanks to the NHL’s divisional playoff format, teams would often see each other every spring, and that’s exactly what the Flyers and Rangers did. They met in the playoffs seven times in nine years from 1979 to 1987. If that doesn’t inspire hatred between teams, and among fan bases, then nothing else will.

The 1990’s brought a Cup to New York, but the Flyers would knock off the defending champs in the 1995 playoffs and then beat the Rangers again in 1997 in the Eastern Conference Final, a series the marked the last postseason appearance of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.

Following their 1997 ouster, the Rangers went into an extended period of decline, and with it went their long-standing rivalry with the Flyers. The games between the teams would still get heated on occasion, but it was a far cry from where it had been.

Then Sidney Crosby arrived on the scene.

The attention of the Flyers and their fans instantly shifted to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who became the team’s de facto “Public Enemy #1” from that point forward. It’s been over a decade, and I’m not sure that the outlook will change anytime soon. Perhaps it’s just a Crosby thing, but we aren’t likely to find out for several more years at least.

While I completely understand and am on board with the Penguin vitriol, I long for the days of the Rangers being the Flyers’ most bitter opponent. It’s so easy to hate New York. And while the Blueshirts have future Hall of Famer and handsomest man alive Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes, it makes me want to hate them even more.

The teams met in the 2014 playoffs, a very entertaining first round series that the Rangers ultimately won in seven games. But it failed to create the kind of spark necessary to rekindle what once was.

A lot of that is the Flyers’ fault for their “miss the playoffs/barely make it in” pattern over the past few years. But with the Orange and Black playing well this season, maybe there is hope yet that both teams can once again be good at the same time, a necessary starting point for recapturing the animosity.

The Rangers aren’t setting the world on fire this year, but with some young pieces in place, they look like they could turn into a contending club over the next few years. I never wish for the Rangers to have success, but it would be greatly entertaining to me if they could get their hopes up only to have the Flyers dash them in the playoffs.

Tonight is basically a run-of-the-mill, late December regular season hockey game. But maybe we can all convince ourselves to view it as a starting point from which we can reinvigorate a great rivalry.

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So, let’s all hate the Rangers again. Starting now.