- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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The Bruins almost blew a 3-1 series lead, but they were able to rally back from a 4-1 third-period deficit and cap a historic comeback by beating Toronto in overtime to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But if the Bruins decide to rest on their laurels the way they have so many times this season, then this could be a quick series. The New York Rangers are a much more formidable, stronger team than the Maple Leafs. These Rangers finally seem to be fulfilling their potential. Here's the scouting report:
Bruins: 4-3 in playoffs. 28-14-6, 62 points, fourth in Eastern Conference, second in Northeast Division in regular season.
Rangers: 4-3 in playoffs. 26-18-4, 56 points, sixth in Eastern Conference, second in Atlantic Division in regular season.
Head-to-head: The Rangers won the season series 2-1-0. After the Bruins took the season opener against the Rangers at TD Garden with a 3-1 victory, the Rangers took the teams' next two matchups at Madison Square Garden, winning 4-3 in overtime and 4-3 in a shootout.
Bruins: The Bruins have scored 17 goals in the playoffs thus far. David Krejci leads the way with five lamplighters and eight assists in seven games. Krejci and linemates Milan Lucic (two goals, seven assists) and Nathan Horton (four goals, three assists) have been sparking the Bruins' offense. Other than Patrice Bergeron, who came alive with two goals and an assist in the epic Game 7 win over the Maple Leafs, the Bruins have not had the scoring balance they will need against the stingy Rangers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist. If the depth up front doesn't come through in this series, the Bruins will have a hard time winning. All a very solid Rangers defense will need to do is shut down the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line and the Bruins will be in trouble. That is why the rest of the forwards, specifically Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand, must step up.
Rangers: The Rangers are similar to the Bruins in that they play a heavy game. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli noted that the Rangers are missing a scoring dynamic with the loss of Marian Gaborik. But the Rangers' sum of parts adds up to a gritty team, like the Bruins. Still, while it's great that Derek Brassard, who came over from Columbus in the Gaborik trade, has nine points in the playoffs, the Rangers will also need their scorers to step up. That hasn't happened yet as Rick Nash has no goals and just two assists and Brad Richards has one goal.
Edge: Even. Right now, both teams need more balance up front. The Bruins and Rangers need more of their usual goal scorers to find the net and could also use more contributions from depth players.
Bruins: When healthy and playing to their potential, they Bruins' defensemen can be one of the most well-rounded blue-line groups in the NHL. They were not playing to their potential when healthy against the Maple Leafs, and now they are not healthy. Boston will likely start this series without Wade Redden, Andrew Ference and possibly Dennis Seidenberg, who has become a premier minutes-eater and shutdown defenseman. It appears the Bruins will need to depend on their youth in Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug. If all three play, that would mean that half of the Bruins' six defensemen to start this series would be rookies. But besides their youth, all three rookies will not bring the physical prowess that Seidenberg and Ference can bring and maybe not the calmness that Redden brings. Their inexperience could make it very difficult to match up against the big and gritty Rangers forwards. The B's three young defensemen can bring offense and help the power play, but can they take the physical toll the Rangers will put on them? Will captain Zdeno Chara wear down from logging all the extra minutes in the absence of Seidenberg and Ference?
Rangers: While the Bruins might gain some offensive punch from their rookie trio of Bartkowski, Krug and Hamilton, don't expect too much offense from the Rangers' blue line. The Rangers don't have many offensive-minded defensemen. But they get the job done in their own end by utilizing shot-blocking, size and toughness. Players like Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto can bring the noise when it comes to hitting and making opposing forwards pay. In what should be a stingy series, that will make it difficult for Bruins forwards to create space and scoring chances.
Edge: Rangers, because of their size, shot-blocking and overall grit.
Bruins: Tuukka Rask is 4-3 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in the playoffs thus far, but those stats would be much better if he had had a team in front of him that was playing better team defense. Rask was solid in every game against the Maple Leafs and on more than one occasion bailed his team out or at least gave the team a chance to win. As this second round begins, Rask is the least of the Bruins' worries and the one factor they know they can count on.
Rangers: Lundqvist is once again King, and as former Ranger Jaromir Jagr said on Wednesday, “As Hank goes, the Rangers go.” Right now Lundqvist is going, as he is 4-3 with a 1.65 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in the playoffs. Lundqvist was a major factor as the Rangers recovered from a 2-0 series deficit against the Capitals, and he will be difficult to beat for the Bruins.
Edge: Rangers. This by no means is a knock on Rask, but at this point, Rask is not quite the elite goalie that Lundqvist is.
Bruins: The Bruins are 3-for-20 on the power play thus far in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but while they surely would like some more goals, there have been signs that the power play is improving. They are moving the puck better overall and, with the exception of Game 7, appear to be looking for the right play rather than the pretty play.
Rangers: The Rangers' power play is actually worse than the Bruins' power play, as New York has gone 2-for-28 in the playoffs. The Rangers' big guns, such as Nash and Richards, aren't getting the job done.
Edge: Even. This series will be won 5-on-5.
Bruins: The Bruins have allowed five goals on 21 power-play attempts against them in the playoffs. Their penalty kill has not been the amazing, shutdown crew it was for three-quarters of the regular season, but this is not an area of concern for Boston. Against a woeful Rangers power play, it shouldn't be an issue.
Rangers: The Rangers have been even better than the Bruins on the penalty kill, allowing just three goals on 16 attempts in the playoffs. Like the Bruins, the Rangers' PK is a pesky and opportunistic group and should make it difficult for the Bruins to get their power play on the scoreboard.
Edge: Even. Again, don't expect special teams to play a major role in this series.
Bruins: Claude Julien was under heavy scrutiny as many (including this scribe) believed his job was in jeopardy heading into Game 7 with the Maple Leafs. But the Bruins became the first team to rally from a three-goal, third-period deficit in a Game 7, and Julien has lived to see another day. His job security shouldn't even have been an issue in the first place, as he has already proven himself by winning a Cup and dealing the best he could with an underachieving roster. He was a major reason the Bruins came back to win in Game 7 and he will be a major reason the Bruins advance if they're able to beat the Rangers.
Rangers: John Tortorella is one of the most boisterous and controversial coaches in the NHL. But he has won a Stanley Cup, and regardless of whether or not his players like him, they play for him. Tortorella helped his team weather an up-and-down season after being a popular preseason pick for the Stanley Cup. If the Rangers do fulfill those predictions, he would be a major reason why.
Edge: Even. Two great coaches should make for a strategic series between the Bruins and Rangers.
Rangers in 6: The Rangers were heavy preseason favorites to be the 2013 Stanley Cup champions but until recently haven't shown signs that they could be. Much like the Bruins, the Rangers have some underachievers and haven't consistently played their game. But the playoffs can bring out the best in teams, and that is going to happen for one team here. The bet is that with a banged-up defense, even if the best comes out in the Bruins, they won't be able to handle the Rangers' best.