- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The New York Rangers are one of the best teams in the NHL at blocking shots. Rangers coach John Tortorella wants his players sacrificing their bodies each game to make sure that 6-ounce sphere of vulcanized rubber doesn’t reach the net.
“Knowing their coach fairly well, he doesn’t care,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien with a smile. “He’s going to have everybody blocking shots. There’s not too often I can tell you I’m 100 percent sure, but I’m 100 percent sure that’s the message he’ll be giving them.”
Even if the puck gets through traffic, New York’s Henrik Lundqvist is the top goalie in the NHL.
Basically, the Boston Bruins will have a tough challenge getting pucks by blocking defenders and a Venzina-winning goalie.
In their quarterfinal series against the Washington Capitals, the Rangers blocked a total of 161 shots in seven games. That’s a lot of bumps and bruises for the Ranger players. In Game 7 of that series, the Rangers blocked 27 en route to a 5-0 shutout win. In fact, that wasn’t even their highest total. In Game 4, New York blocked 33 in a 4-3 win.
“That’s their business. That’s what they want to do. It’s served them well. It’s got them where they are right now, so I think the main thing for us is to know that they’re going to do that and how do we react to them blocking shots," said Julien.
“We have to keep our heads up and make sure that we don’t bury our heads when we’re shooting pucks. We’re going to have to work extra hard to get those pucks through and then get them to reach the net. At the same time, I don’t think it’s a big secret to know that they got a pretty good goaltender, and that traffic in front of the net is going to be something we’re going to want to do a lot. We know by listening to Washington that it seemed to be a bit of an issue, trying to get there. We’re going to have to work hard at making that happen.”
Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has one of the hardest shots in the history of the NHL. Boston’s captain can easily uncork a slap shot upwards of 110 m.p.h. when he’s given the time and space. Teammate and fellow defenseman Johnny Boychuk isn’t too far behind with his slapper.
The Bruins’ message to the Rangers is simply: Enter at your own risk.
“I’m certainly not going to ask him to take anything off his shot because they’re blocking. If they want to block them, he’s going to shoot them,” Julien said with a smile.
Even his own teammates don’t want to block Chara’s shot during practice.
“I don’t think it would be that much fun,” said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. “You have to do it, it’s part of the game, but at the same time I know in practice I don’t want to get in front of it. I played against him for a couple of years and it was never fun knowing that he was on the ice and ready for that one-timer. It’s always tough.”
How do you block it without sacrificing a body part in the process?
“You try to get as close to him as possible so that you don’t give him that much time to get his shot off,” Bergeron said. “If you give him the time that he needs to get it off, it’s definitely going to hurt or you’re not going to block it.”
It doesn’t matter who is going to be shooting the puck for the Bruins because the Rangers will be blocking them, especially defenseman Dan Girardi, who finished the regular season with 125 blocked shots in only 46 games.
“It’s about finding different ways and faking some shots,” Bergeron said. “At the same time, we need to create our chances, create some havoc in front of Lundqvist and get to the loose pucks, loose rebounds. We know it’s part of the game and they will block some shots, but it’s about fighting through it.”
How about a soft dump on net?
“Lobbing it? I don’t know, I’ve never thought of that. Maybe I should tell Claude,” Bergeron said with a smile.
8dJoe McDonald and Kyle Brasseur
44dKyle Brasseur, Special to ESPNBoston.com