Flyers Thinking Rangers First, Winter Classic After

VOORHEES, NJ- Of course all the thoughts headed into this week was the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic. To the media the Flyers and Bruins opponents before New Years day have become almost after thoughts.

In the case of Philadelphia, the Rangers have the utmost priority. Focus has to 100 percent remain on New York tomorrow at the Garden.

The Flyers are only two points back from tying the Rangers for third place in the Atlantic as we reach the midway point of the season. So yes, these two points mean more than the Winter Classic right now.

“We’re playing the Rangers right now. They are in our division, right next to us in the standings. The only thing that matters is we have to win that game.”

Laviolette elaborated heavily on the fact that he doesn’t want any of his players thinking about the Winter Classic. Games like tomorrow are too important to just think past them. The Flyers are in no position to get excited now for the Classic, it should be eat, sleep, and breathe Rangers hockey tonight into tomorrow.

“I don’t want anyone thinking about Winter Classic,” said Laviolette, a Massachusetts native.

“We need to win [against the Rangers], end of story. We need two points and at the end, we can deal with Boston, [Players] are smart enough looking up to know how important that game is tomorrow,” said Laviolette.

“When the sun comes up the next day, we’ll deal with [the Winter Classic],” added Laviolette smiling.

Around the locker room today, you could definitely get the feeling that the players are without a doubt focusing solely on the Rangers and earning another two points.

“I’m not in the mood for the Winter Classic yet because I am still focused on the Rangers,” winger Danny Briere said. “I think once that game is played, we get into it, and with Boston already being there and already taking it all in, maybe they are already in that mode. But we have a big game before that to concentrate on.

“Yes we have to enjoy [Winter Classic]. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. You have to take a little bit of time and enjoy what is going on, but at the same time, it’s not a party where we can let ourselves go and forget about everything. We still have a big game to play. Those are two important points for us.”

The players peek everyday and see their spot in the standings and realize they have to play near .700 hockey for the rest of the season to even register enough points to be in contention for a playoff spot in the East.

“When you are losing, it’s tough. Tough to come to the rink with a smile and act happy and act like everything’s going OK,” said defensemen Chris Pronger. “At the end of the day, this is not life and death. It’s a game. Its pretty important to a lot of us … we have to realize fun translates into working hard and winning hockey games.”

The next important question has caused questioning is the goaltending situation as we get closer to the Classic. Michael Leighton has been soundly efficient and a key part in the Flyers current three-game winning streak. Leighton will also get the start yet again tomorrow night against the Rangers.

“Right now, Michael Leighton deserves to start,” said Laviolette. “He has won three games in a row, and he’s done it on the road, looked going doing it, and deserves to go back in the net.”

Brian Boucher who has been sidelined with a lacerated right finger, says he is ready to go and doesn’t see a reason why he couldn’t play Friday at Fenway Park.

“I don’t see why not,” Boucher said. “The good news about this injury is I can get on the ice and move around stuff… I feel good as far as conditioning. It is matter of getting more comfortable with the finger.”

Boucher had the injured finger numbed for practice so he couldn’t feel the vibration of the stick. Its going to be a tough decision for coach Laviolette come Friday morning on who to start or the Classic. However, one has to think that if Leighton puts on another solid performance tomorrow against the Rangers and the Flyers win that he’ll be between the pipes in Boston.

Notes:

Tomorrow at noon, captain Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Simon Gagne will find out if they had what it took to make Steve Yzerman’s Team Canada for the Olympics in February. Congrats to defensemen Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (Norway) and Oskars Bartulis (Latvia) as they will partake in the 2010 games in Vancouver.

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