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Talk about a flair for the dramatic. The Boston Bruins, on the verge of blowing a 3-1 series lead against the plucky Toronto Maple Leafs, stormed back from a 4-1 deficit in Game 7 to tie the game in the waning moments of regulation and then win it 5-4 in overtime, with Patrice Bergeron netting both the tying and winning goals. Meanwhile, the New York Rangers overcame a 3-2 series deficit against Southeast Division-champion Washington and spanked the Caps 5-0 in D.C. Monday night, their second straight seven-game triumph over Washington. This sets up an intriguing Original Six matchup of teams with high expectations. Both endured periods of inconsistent play down the stretch, both like to roll four lines, and neither mind the punishing stuff. Long and tough? Oh, you bet.
1. Whither the offense?
The Rangers' offense sputtered for long stretches during their series against Washington leading up to Monday night's offensive explosion. In four of the seven games, the Rangers managed to score one or fewer goals. While much of the focus has been on the lack of production from Rick Nash -- the big winger had just two assists in the series -- he had lots of help in the "Where are you?" department. Brad Richards, coming off a disappointing regular season, chipped in one goal and zero assists, while captain Ryan Callahan did not score in the series until the third period of Game 7, with the outcome already assured. The yin to the yang of the lack of big-name scoring is that the Rangers got the kind of depth scoring that is crucial to advancing in the postseason. Tough guy Arron Asham scored his second of the postseason to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in Game 7 as New York had five players with two goals in the series, although no one with more. The main revelation in the opening round was Derick Brassard, who filled a huge void offensively with two goals and seven assists to lead the Rangers. Still, New York's power play was a miserable 2-for-28, and logic suggests that unless the Rangers' big boys produce -- especially against a Bruins team that has shown a propensity for lighting it up offensively -- the challenge of moving on will be a big one.
2. The King reigns
If there was a constant down the stretch for the Rangers, it was Henrik Lundqvist as he followed up his Vezina Trophy win last year with another spot on the final ballot this season. After the Rangers dropped the first two games of the first round, Lundqvist essentially bolted the door the rest of the way, allowing just eight goals in the final five games. He shut out the Capitals in Games 6 and 7 with the Rangers' season on the line. Clutch? Uhm, yes. While Tuukka Rask was solid in goal for the Bruins, he did give up 18 goals in seven games compared with the 12 Lundqvist allowed against the Caps, giving the Rangers a distinct edge in goal. The Capitals tried to get as much traffic in front of Lundqvist as possible, but the Bruins are going to have to be a lot more successful if they want to force the Rangers to open up the game more. In other words, paging Milan Lucic.
3. The fatigue factor
Although both teams are coming off seven-game sets and the Rangers will have to go from one road-clinching game to two road games in Boston, it's the Bruins that might be the team that suffers the most if this, as predicted, turns out to be a long series. Given the unusual part of their schedule -- games delayed and rescheduled as a result of snowstorms and the Boston Marathon bombings -- they have played a lot of hockey in recent days. Since April 13 -- a month ago -- the Bruins have played 17 games. During the latter stages of the series against Toronto, when the Bruins dropped two games after taking a 3-1 series lead, they looked beaten down. Yes, they did rise up with an emotional comeback in Game 7, but you have to wonder about the emotional toll taken on the Bruins, especially given the relatively easy time the Rangers had in Game 7. Does it mean anything? You can count on the Rangers, who like to play in-your-face hockey anyways, to try to exploit whatever weariness factor there might be.
4. Who's got the hots?
If the Rangers will be waiting -- and hoping -- for a breakout series from their big guns, the Bruins have seen their skilled players go through the roof. David Krejci, who had 10 goals in the regular season, had five goals and 13 points to lead all NHL players through the first round. Bergeron, as is his wont, came up huge in Game 7 with two crucial goals while Nathan Horton, who struggled at times during the regular season and finished with 13 goals, came up with four in the first round against the Leafs. But the guy who will be crucial to the Bruins in the second round, especially if it becomes the expected physical set-to, is Milan Lucic. An Eastern Conference scout told us at the start of the playoffs that he believed Lucic was the engine that would drive the Bruins playoff machinery. Lucic struggled mightily during the regular season and was at one point a healthy scratch. But the power forward was an agitating presence around the net throughout the Toronto series and finished with nine points, including a goal and an assist in Game 7.
5. Hurtin' for certain
Both teams might be without key defensive figures when the series begins. Marc Staal's comeback attempt ended quickly and he played in only one game in the first round and is not expected to return to the lineup anytime soon. Ryane Clowe, a key trade deadline acquisition up front, was limited to two games because of injury. Meanwhile, the Bruins were without Andrew Ference for the past two games and then lost Dennis Seidenberg early in Game 7 after a collision with Matt Frattin. One Eastern Conference scout said he believes the loss of the wildly underappreciated Seidenberg for any amount of time would doom the Bruins' chances of advancing against the Rangers.
• This Boston team reminds us a lot of the 2011 Bruins that looked vulnerable in a seven-game opening round series against Montreal but, in spite of wobbling, prevailed and went on to win a Cup. Not sure a Cup is in this team's future, but we like them to sneak by the Rangers in what should be an entertaining tilt. Bruins in 7