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Bruins vs Rangers

Bruins vs. Rangers series preview

By Dan Rosen and Brian Compton - NHL.com Staff Writers

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Bruins vs. Rangers series preview
The Bruins and Rangers face off in the playoffs for the first time in 40 years, with both teams coming off first round series that went seven games.

Boston Bruins

 Seed: 428-14-662 Pts.

New York Rangers

 Seed: 626-18-456 Pts.

The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins were bitter rivals in the early 1970s, when they met three times in four years in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins beat the Rangers on the way to the Stanley Cup in 1970 and again in the 1972 Final. The Rangers exacted some revenge by ending the Bruins' championship run the following spring.

Amazingly, the Original Six rivals haven't met in the postseason since then -- until this year. Boston's Game 7 comeback win against the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York's 5-0 rout of the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of their series sets up the 10th playoff confrontation between the two, but the first in 40 years.

The Bruins, two years removed from winning their first Cup since that 1972 team beat the Rangers, has the core of the championship team, led by Zdeno Chara on the blue line and Patrice Bergeron up front. The biggest change is in goal, where Tuukka Rask has replaced 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas.

The Rangers had a disappointing regular season after finishing first in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12. Henrik Lundqvist's goaltending is still the key to New York's success, and his back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 of the first round are the biggest reason the Rangers are here.

New York won two of the three regular-season meetings, but both teams came away from four points because Boston had the only regulation victory. They haven't seen each other since Feb. 12, so expect the coaches to use the two-day break to catch up on the other team.

Forwards

They’re big, they’re strong and they play solidly in both ends of the ice. Spearheaded by David Krejci’s 13 points in their wild seven-game series against the Maple Leafs, the Bruins have enough weapons up front to create plenty of problems for Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Boston also has to be excited that after a sluggish regular season, hulking wing Milan Lucic found his groove against the Maple Leafs -- he had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in seven games. Combine that with Bergeron’s coming-out party in Game 7, and Boston should be able to keep busy in the offensive zone.

Veteran Jaromir Jagr was held without a goal in the opening round, but if the 41-year-old gets going against his former club, the Bruins will present a balanced attack that includes right wing Nathan Horton (seven points in as many games against Toronto) and pesky left wing Brad Marchand, who had 36 points and a plus-23 rating during the regular season.

It took until Game 6 against the Capitals, but Rangers coach John Tortorella may have finally found some line combinations he can live with.

He still mixes and matches along the way in games, but Tortorella found a solid checking line with Brian Boyle centering Derek Dorsett and Taylor Pyatt and a potentially dangerous scoring line with Derick Brassard between Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello. It's hard to determine if that's the Rangers' top line or if it's Derek Stepan between Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan.

A fourth line of Brad Richards between Chris Kreider and Arron Asham clearly has some offensive upside when given the chance.

The Rangers cashed in during Game 7 with goals from five players, including Pyatt and Asham. New York scored 11 goals through the first six games.

The Boyle line gives New York some edginess with its grit, but it can forecheck hard and create offensive chances. The Brassard line has skill, but the Rangers have to get Nash going if they want to advance beyond the conference semifinals. They survived against Washington without a goal from Nash, who did have two assists.

Brassard was big against the Capitals with a team-high nine points.

The Rangers are missing Ryane Clowe and Darroll Powe, each of whom are out with an undisclosed injury. Clowe is a major loss because of his physical style and ability to generate offense. There is no telling if either will be available in the second round or beyond.

DEFENSEMEN

Boston’s blue line continues to be led by Chara, who played 35:46 in Monday’s Game 7 victory. The 6-foot-9 captain has plenty of capability to chip in on the offensive end too; he ranked third on the club in scoring against the Maple Leafs with eight points (one goal, seven assists) and fired 25 shots on goal in the series. It will ultimately be Chara’s responsibility to stop Rangers forward Rick Nash, who was held without a goal against the Capitals.

The Bruins may have to go without Andrew Ference, who missed the final two games of the opening round with an undisclosed injury, and Dennis Seidenberg, who played 37 seconds in Game 7 due to what looked to be a lower-body injury. That likely means more ice time for Johnny Boychuk, Matt Bartkowski and perhaps rookie Dougie Hamilton, a first-round draft pick in 2011. Wade Redden was scratched for Game 7, but could return if Ference and Seidenberg are unable to play.

Considering they allowed 12 goals, none in the final 120 minutes of the series, to the high-scoring Washington, New York's six-man blue-line unit is looking pretty good right about now. It would look better if Marc Staal is able to play, but there is no way to know if that's going to happen.

Staal is bothered by blurred vision out of his right eye stemming from the injury he suffered on March 5. He played in Game 3 against the Capitals but did not return in the series because of issues he does not want to discuss in detail.

The Rangers press on with a top pair that gets used a heck of a lot. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi each averaged at least 25 minutes of ice time per game against Washington. They almost exclusively handled Alex Ovechkin and held him without a point in the final five games of the series.

Tortorella played around with his second and third pairs, but seems to have settled, at least for now, on Michael Del Zotto being with Anton Stralman and John Moore with Steve Eminger. Moore impressed early against Washington, but Del Zotto moved back to the second pair in Game 6 and stayed there for Game 7, when he scored a goal and was a plus-3 in more than 20 minutes of ice time.

Stralman was one of the Rangers' unsung stars in the conference quarterfinals. He averaged more than 21 minutes per game and delivered some big-time body checks.

GOALIES

Rask did just enough to get the Bruins into the second round after a tough, seven-game duel against James Reimer. Rask appeared in all seven games for Boston, going 4-3 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

Rask is the clear-cut No. 1 goaltender in Boston these days, long since removed from the controversy involving Thomas. Though Rask won’t have to look over his shoulder anytime soon, it’s imperative he makes the timely saves if the Bruins are going to be one of the final two teams standing in the Eastern Conference.

If Henrik Lundqvist isn't the leader for the Conn Smythe Trophy after the conference quarterfinals, he has to at least be one of the top three candidates. Lundqvist was brilliant against Washington despite having the slimmest margin for error for the first six games. He is arguably the only reason the Rangers advanced to the second round.

He finished the series with back-to-back shutouts, giving him a 1.65 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage. The Rangers' first three victories were by one goal.

As good as Girardi and McDonagh were on Ovechkin, it was Lundqvist who made the biggest difference. He stoned the Capitals superstar time after time after time. Ovechkin had good scoring chances but simply could not figure out Lundqvist, who stopped 29 of his 30 shots.

Martin Biron is the backup, but as much as the Rangers like him they'd prefer he stayed a practice goalie.

COACH

Claude Julien avoided what appeared to be a disaster as his club trailed by three goals midway through Game 7 on home ice. Boston, you’ll remember, was ousted from the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when it dropped Game 7 at TD Garden against the Capitals.

Julien has a championship on his resume; he guided the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011.

Tortorella can be gruff at times, but the two things about him that are undeniable are his belief in how his team should play and his belief in his team as a whole. Tortorella never changed his approach, his systems or showed any signs of losing faith in the Rangers despite their inconsistencies during the regular season. He stayed the same against the Capitals.

His message is to the Rangers is if they keep playing, keep doing what they do, they will be successful. It's hard to argue with that now. He's taken the Rangers to the conference semifinals for a second straight season and they have won three Game 7s along the way.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins power play ranked 11th of the 16 teams involved in the opening round; it converted at a rate of 15 percent. Boston will need to be better on the man advantage against New York and should benefit if Chara can get his booming shot through the Rangers defense, which is never afraid to dive in front of a puck.

Boston’s penalty kill also ranked 11th in the opening round at 76.2 percent. Though the Rangers power play clicked at an abysmal 7.1 percent against the Capitals, the Bruins would be wise to stay out of the box if they don’t want Nash to get going.

The best part of the Rangers special teams is they did not need to use their penalty kill at all in Game 6 against Washington and had to do so twice in Game 7. They were disciplined, which was important against a high-powered power play.

However, the Rangers power play can use some work. It went 2-for-28 in the series and failed on three 5-on-3 chances. Their PK was 13-for-16 against Washington, but again, the key was the Rangers didn't have to kill a power play in Game 6 and had to do it twice in Game 7.

SERIES CHANGER

Milan Lucic: The gifted, physical forward had seven goals and 20 assists in 46 regular-season games, but showed signs of awakening from his slumber against the Maple Leafs. Given the lack of size on New York’s blue line, Lucic has an opportunity to create havoc in front of Lundqvist and continue to build off his solid series against Toronto.

Brian Boyle: Boyle made a big difference for the Rangers against Washington with his physicality along the walls and in front of the net, as well as his success in the faceoff circle. He scored two goals, dished out an assist and won 51.6 percent of his faceoffs. Boyle was at least a factor on the power play with his presence in front. He thinks it is close to breaking out, and if it does, Boyle likely will be a big part of it. He is centering that third line, which was arguably New York's best in its 1-0 win in Game 6 against Washington.

WHAT IF...

The Bruins will win if … They can find ways to solve Lundqvist, who carried the Rangers to their opening-round series victory with back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7. Boston certainly has the weapons to beat Lundqvist, but the Bruins must hope Lucic and Bergeron continue to generate offense as a way to take pressure off Krejci, who was dominant against the Maple Leafs.

The Rangers will win if … They get some more consistent offense out of go-to guys Nash, Callahan and Stepan. It's fair to assume Lundqvist will still be Lundqvist, meaning the Rangers should have a chance to win every game. However, they won't advance if they don't get some production out of their big guys -- and that means producing on the power play as well. They've talked about being close on the power play, but they need to get there to advance to the conference finals.


Quote of the Day

I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh