The Boston Bruins and New York Rangers are set to collide in the semifinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While some of us fans are still thinking about the “miracle on causeway”, the Bruins turn their attentions to the New York Rangers. The Rangers moved on to the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs after beating the Washington Capitals in 7 games. The Toronto Maple Leafs certainly challenged the Bruins in a variety of ways during their first round playoff match-up. Had it not been for spectacular comeback, the B’s would be sitting at home watching this series with Toronto in their place.
The Rangers are whole different type of animal, they pose a greater challenge to Boston in a bevy of areas, and the Bruins will have to bring a much better effort overall if they hope to keep up. I am going to break down the preview into three areas and discuss the advantages, and disadvantages both teams have in this series.
I think the Bruins match-up really well here. David Krejci leads the NHL in playoff scoring right now, and his linemates have been excellent thus far into the post-season. Milan Lucic has all but erased his miserable regular season with an impressive showing, and he is currently ranked 5th in the NHL playoff scoring leaders. Nathan Horton has also been up to the task with 4 goals, 3 assists, and a league leading +11 in the post season.
The real question here is the rest of the Bruins offense. Patrice Bergeron’s line with Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand was basically none existent in the first round against Toronto, and it wasn’t until game 7 that they finally contributed offensively. Seguin finally broke his scoring slump against the Leafs with an assist on Bergeron’s series clinching goal. Hopefully it lit a fire underneath him, and the rest of that line. Seguin has been reportedly playing with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly on the third line in practice, while Jaromir Jagr has been moved up in his place. I think creates more balance throughout, and will take pressure of the young winger, while letting Jagr have a more important role in the top six. The Bruins’ bottom six was invisible against the Leafs, and to beat the Rangers they will need to elevate their play, and give Claude Julien the ability to role all four lines.
It has been somewhat of an unexpected season for the New York Rangers. The off-season addition of Rick Nash had many thinking the Rags would be an elite Eastern Conference team. Unfortunately for New York, inconsistent play from some pretty big players led to some pretty big changes. Brad Richards hasn’t been the same scoring machine he has been throughout his career since joining the Rangers, and was virtually non existent throughout the first round against the Capitals. In his debut in New York, Rick Nash was better than expected. He scored 21 goals, 21 assists, and a +16 in 44 games. Unfortunately he has yet to turn his good regular season into post season success. He only registered 2 assists in the Rangers’ series win.
Boston Bruins forwards from right to left #37 Patrice Bergeron, #46 David Krejci, and #18 Nathan Horton
A shocking trade deadline deal between the the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Rangers provided the team with the necessary shakeup it needed to elevate its game for the playoffs. New York shipped out inconsistent scorer Marian Gaborik in exchange for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, and John Moore. This trade helped shore up some major depth problems for the Rangers, and the results have been terrific. Brassard currently leads New York in playoff scoring with 2 goals, 5 assists, and a +4. It is remarkable how much a change of scenery can help a player. The Rangers also have Derek Stepan, and Carl Hagelin who each had great years.
To me, the Bruins have greater depth in their offensive structure than the Rangers. New York has an excellent top 6, but afterwards the depth tails off considerably compared to Boston. Give me Krejci, Lucic, Horton, Bergeron, Marchand, Jagr, and Seguin over Nash, Richards, Stepan, Brassard, Callahan, and Hagelin any day of the week.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins are a little dinged up on the back-end heading into this series. Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, and Wade Redden were all missing from practice today, and it is expected that all of them could miss the series opener Thursday. When healthy the B’s defense is an incredibly focused unit. Each member of Boston’s defense has completely bought in to Claude Julien’s defense system, and over they years they have become one of the NHL’s elite defensive teams. Defense is what won them the Stanley Cup in 2011. Zdeno Chara has been an absolute force in the postseason in all areas of the ice. He is currently leads all Bruins and NHL defensemen in scoring with 1 goal, 7 assists, and a +6 in 7 games. He is also averaging 28:54 minutes of ice time game, which is second only to the already eliminated Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild.
Other than Chara, the B’s defense was less than stellar in the opening round against Toronto. Dennis Seidenberg, to me, played the worst series of his career though it appears he may have been suffering an injury throughout. Andrew Ference played that solid brand of hockey he always does, but missed a couple of games with injury and suspension. Wade Redden played well, but again injury… noticing a trend? Adam McQuaid was really solid in the first round, and it is his type of stay home play that will help the Bruins overcome some of the injuries they have been hit with. I thought Matt Bartkowski was outstanding in game 7 against Toronto, and I believe he has the inside track on guys like Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug when and if players return from injury. Johnny Boychuk currently leads the entire NHL in blocked shots in the playoffs right now with 28, so that is something else to get excited about.
New York Rangers defensemen #5 Dan Girardi, and #18 Marc Staal
The New York Rangers are probably the best shot blocking team in the entire NHL. Rangers’ coach John Tortorella has his team sacrificing their bodies to protect their elite goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. As you can imagine, it is very difficult to score on him already, never mind the many Rangers who will be looking to get in front of every Bruins shot. New York’s top pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have a combined 44 blocked shots, which is the most of any pairing in the NHL right now. As a unit the Rangers have a combined 91 blocked shots in their first 7 games between six defensemen. The Bruins only have 72 blocked shots so far, and they are spread between seven different defensemen.
The Rangers also lack some puck movement out of their own zone. Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman are both solid puck-movers, but hey aren’t overly physical. The Bruins would do well to fore-check ferociously to hem them into their own zone. New York also plays a collapsing style of defense so the onus will be on the Bruins to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. There is going to have to be a crowd in front of Henrik Lundqvist on nearly every offensive possession if the Bruins hope to have any chance of beating him.
It is tough to say who has the advantage here, The Rangers have an excellent shut down style of hockey, and so do the Bruins. The Bruins have better puck-movement in this writer’s opinion, but the Rangers have the willingness to do what ever it takes to keep the puck out of their own zone.
Advantage: Its a Wash
New York Rangers goaltender #30 Henrik Lundqvist
Before I get this part started, I want to to say that I really think Tuukka Rask should have been a finalist for the Vezina. I was disappointed when he wasn’t, but in reality, the award is going to go to Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky who was absolutely outstanding this season.
Rask has been good for the Bruins in the playoffs so far, but the defense in front of him has been lackluster. He has made the necessary “big saves” for the B’s when he has needed to, and he has also let in a few softies too. I believe Rask is good enough to help the Bruins win this series, but goaltending is an obvious advantage for the Rangers.
Henrik Lundqvist is arguably one of the best goaltenders in the world. Lundqvist has been absolutely ridiculous in the playoffs so far posing an incredibly .947 save percentage, an amazing 1.65 goals against average, and 2 shutouts. He carried the team on his back through games 6 & 7 posting back-to-back shutouts. To beat him the Bruins are going to have to crash his crease, and get as many bodies as they can in front of him. If Lundqvist puts on his game face for this series, the Bruins may be in for an incredibly difficult ride.
Advantage: New York Rangers
This is going to be an incredibly tough series for both teams. Its a coin flip as to who comes out on top. I believe the Bruins can win this series, but they won’t be able to do so by taking games off like they did against Toronto. Both teams special teams units are nearly identical. Boston has a slight advantage on the powerplay, while New York has the slight advantage on the penalty kill. When making a preview, it is really easy to make a prediction, but in this case, there are too many intangibles for both teams to succeed. If Boston can show the same heart and determination they did against the Leafs in the final minutes of the game for a full 60 minutes, I think they can win handily. However, beating Henrik Lundqvist is no easy task as some of the finest offensive players in the game from the Capitals couldn’t get it done. This is going to be a hard fought low scoring series, which is just how both of these teams like it.
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