1/19 – @ Boston – Bruins 3 Rangers 1
1/23 @ NY – Rangers 4 Bruins 3 (OT)
2/12 @ Boston – Rangers 4 Bruins 3 (SO)
Thurs 5/16 @ TD Garden
Sun 5/19 @ TD Garden
Tue 5/21 @ Madison Square Garden
Thu 5/23 @ Madison Square Garden
*Sat 5/25 @ TD Garden
*Mon 5/27 @ Madison Square Garden
*Wed 5/29 @ TD Garden
For the first time in 40 years, the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins have a date in the playoffs. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, Rangers GM Glen Sather was playing LW for the Blueshirts, Bobby Orr was dominating for the Bruins, and the teams were three years away from swapping Jean Ratelle & Brad Park for Phil Esposito & Carol Vadnais. The Rangers were the stronger team in that Stanley Cup Quarterfinals series, winning four games to one. Much like the 1973 series, this 2nd round match-up in is going to be a physical one.
Each team earned four points in the season series. Their last meeting came before Valentine’s Day, and the Rangers have made some key roster changes since then, so you can’t take too much from the early season meetings. One thing that we can count on is this being a tight series. Since the 2007-08 season, 18 of their 23 regular season meetings have been decided by one goal.
When you start to compare the teams on paper, they are very similar. Both teams play a physical brand of hockey and think defense first. Both teams rely heavily on quality goaltending, and both teams have goalies that are capable of stealing games. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask posted a 19-10-5 record with five shutouts, a .929 save percentage, and a 2.00 goals-against-average in the regular season. Rangers Vezina-nominee Henrik Lundqvist went 24-16-3 in the regular season with two shutouts, a .926 save percentage, and a 2.05 GAA. In the playoffs, Rask is 4-3 with a .923 save percentage and a 2.49 GAA. Lundqvist has posted better numbers in the post-season, going 4-3 with a .949 save percentage, a 1.65 GAA, and two shutouts.
Another way the teams are mirror images of one another is their respectively awful power plays. The Bruins power play ranked 26th in the league during the regular season (14.8%) and the Blueshirts ranked 23rd (15.7%). Boston’s power play has remained the same in the playoffs, going 3 for 20 (15%), while the Rangers power play has actually gotten worse (2 for 28 – 7.1%). The power play that gets going first will give that team a serious advantage.
Boston had one of the top Penalty Kill units in the regular season (ranked 4th at 87%), but the Maple Leafs scored five goals in 21 opportunities against the Bruins PK (76%). The Rangers killed penalties at an 81% rate in the regular season (ranked 15th in the league), and that rate has remained the same in the playoffs. After seeing the top-ranked Capitals power play, a Rangers penalty shouldn’t be as consequential as it was in the first round.
When you compare the teams up front, the Bruins have a deeper, more experienced group of forwards. The Bruins are one of the deepest teams up the middle with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Chris Kelly, and Gregory Campbell. They also have guys like Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, and Rich Peverley that play the wing, but who are natural centers. Milan Lucic is one of the top, edgiest power forwards in the league, Brad Marchand is a very productive pest, and Jaromir Jagr is always a threat. The Rangers counter that with the play-making Derick Brassard (leads the Rangers in playoff points), the speedy forechecker Carl Hagelin, one of the most well-rounded players in Ryan Callahan, and the currently underachieving Rick Nash and Brad Richards. The Rangers have their own pests in Derek Dorsett and Arron Asham to try and get under the Bruins skin.
On the blueline, the Bruins have one of the best defensemen in the league in Zdeno Chara. He’s big (6’ 9”), a strong defender, and has the hardest shot in the league. Beyond that, they are hurting with Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, and Wade Redden all questionable at the moment. I like the Rangers group of defensemen better even when the Bruins are at full health. They have more quality depth among their group, and were a big reason the Capitals only scored twelve goals in seven games.
Of all the teams that made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins were one of the teams that the Rangers matched up best against due to their similar styles. Both teams survived scares in the first round, and both teams can build off of their respective series endings to make a run. My brain says the Bruins take the series, my heart says the Rangers, and so in times like this, I go with my gut. Unless the Rangers offense gets going, it’s going to be tough for Lundqvist to carry the Blueshirts two series in a row. Bruins in Seven.