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Flyers, Rangers won’t allow Winter Classic spectacle to distract

PHILADELPHIA -- Between the active rosters for the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, only 11 players have participated in a previous Winter Classic game.

For the rest, it'll be a new, exciting experience, but as the players and coaches know, two points are at stake -- a fact that's amplified by the current Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings with the Rangers and Flyers separated by two points.

That detail isn't lost on either team. They'll be playing in front of over 45,000 fans on Monday afternoon, dealing with the outdoor elements and having to adjust to intricacies of playing on a hockey rink inside of a baseball stadium.

The Rangers haven't been strangers to distractions this season. Beginning the year with games in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Sweden, then the New York to Hartford commutes of Sean Avery, and now a month of HBO's 24/7 cameras capturing each of their highs and lows leading up to the 2012 Winter Classic.

Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella said that dealing with those issues has helped the team handle the excitement surrounding Monday's game.

"I think it's been a great experience for them," said Tortorella after Sunday's practice. "They have handled themselves very well through a lot of things, and also this. So their focus, there won't be any problem with that at all as far as tomorrow. They are excited about playing. It's time to play the game."

Tortorella and Flyers Head Coach Peter Laviolette will deliver the coach-speak of there being two points on the line and, as both teams found out on the final day of the 2009-10 season, those points are vital, no matter at what point they come in the season. This time around, the Flyers and Rangers appear set to battle for supremacy atop the division and conference, not fighting for their playoff lives like back in 2010.

Flyers rookie Matt Read understands the unique experience of participating in a Winter Classic, but also the importance of the playoff ramifications it might have down the line.

"It's the Winter Classic," Read said. "It's a huge honor to be playing in it, but at the same time, we're two points behind the Rangers right now. If this game could be a fact of getting home ice advantage in the playoffs, or we're a point behind them going into the playoffs. Every game against your division rivals are big games. We're not taking this game lightly at all. We want to win this and get ahead of them in the standings and go from there."

The energy inside Citizens Bank Ballpark will be electric on Monday afternoon. The crowd, and the fact that it's a divisional game between two local rivals who've developed a bit of hate for one another should mean just as much energy on the ice.

The key will be how each team is able to keep its emotions in check.

"I think you're going to have to use that energy and excitement and try to generate it on the ice and use it for your advantage," said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. "It's going to be an exciting game to play in. Everybody's going to be amped up and ready to go; it's just a matter of controlling that and using it the right way."

Using it the right way to take home a win.

"It's a great experience," said Henrik Lundqvist.

"You have to be able to take it in an enjoy it, but at the same time do your job."

Photo credit: AP

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