Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers: NHL Playoff Preview and Prediction

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2013

Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers: NHL Playoff Preview and Prediction

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    This is a very improbable Original Six matchup in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

    The Bruins were down by three goals midway through the third period, and all they had to do was register a comeback for the ages to eliminate the heartbroken Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime of the seventh game.

    Patrice Bergeron scored the tying goal in the final minute and the winning goal in overtime for the 5-4 win.

    At the same time, the New York Rangers had to break serve on the road after the home team had won the first six games in the series.

    But the Rangers, fresh off a 1-0 victory in Game 6, rolled by the Caps and dominated Game 7 by a 5-0 score.

    It was the second consecutive postseason shutout for Henrik Lundqvist.

    Here's a preview of what could be a very special series.

Where They Stand After First Round

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    The Bruins were on their way to heartbreak. After taking a 3-1 lead in their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins went into collapse mode.

    Toronto came back to tie the series at 3-3 after six games, and the Maple Leafs built a 4-1 lead in the third period of Game 7.

    The Bruins have always been a hard-hitting, no-quit team, but what they accomplished in the final minutes was shocking.

    After a goal by Nathan Horton midway through the third period, the Bruins scored two goals with goalie Tuukka Rask on the bench in the final 90 seconds. Patrice Bergeron scored the tying goal with Zdeno Chara screening Toronto goalie James Reimer after Milan Lucic had brought the Bruins within one goal.

    In the extra session, the Bruins took advantage of their momentum and scored the series-winning goal when Bergeron shoveled the puck into the net.

    The Rangers may not have needed a miracle, but they were equally impressive in the seventh game. After home teams had won each of the first six games, the Rangers went to Washington determined to spank the Capitals on their home ice.

    They were fully confident because they had Henrik Lundqvist in goal. The King had blanked the Caps 1-0 in Game 6 and was on top of his game.

    He threw yet another shutout against the Caps in Game 7, but this time he got maximum support—in the form of five goals—from his teammates. It was an easy 5-0 victory, and the Rangers go into the conference semifinals with plenty of confidence.

Key Storylines

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    The Rangers and Bruins will resume hostilities in the playoffs for the first time since 1973.

    The last time the two teams met in a playoff series, the Rangers had stars like Eddie Giacomin, Brad Park, Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle.

    The Bruins were big and bad, and they had Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Wayne Cashman.

    Both teams despised each other, and while they had highly skilled players, the games would often turn into fight-filled affairs.

    While there is always a Boston-New York rivalry in any major sport, the Rangers-Bruins angst has been dormant for years.

    It will kick into high gear in a matter of days.

    Both teams depend on defense and goaltending. The Bruins have a bit more size and strength to punish their opponents, while the Rangers excel at blocking shots.

    Goals should be at a premium in this series.

Players to Watch

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    Boston Bruins

    Zdeno Chara—The Bruins depend on Chara to dominate on the blue line. He is the biggest player in the NHL at 6'9" and 255 pounds, and he can punish opponents with his thunderous hits. He is a skilled performer who has the hardest shot in the NHL. He had a four-assist game in the Bruins' 5-2 victory in Game 3. Chara is not coming off his best season, and he must protect against giving the puck away in his own zone.

    Patrice Bergeron—He is one of the most complete players in the league. Bergeron is perhaps the game's best faceoff man and is a superb defensive player. While he is not a dominant scorer, he is at his best in big games. He scored the tying and winning goal in the seventh game against the Maple Leafs. Bergeron is the most respected player in the Bruins locker room for his selflessness and team-first attitude.

     

    New York Rangers

    Derick Brassard—The Rangers picked up Brassard in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets in early April. Many thought the Rangers had made a huge error by shipping Marian Gaborik out of town, but Brassard has proven to be a high-character player with excellent offensive skills. Brassard scored a team-high nine points (two goals, seven assists) in the seven-game victory over the Caps.

    Ryan Callahan—Like Bergeron, he is not a superstar. However, Callahan is an invaluable performer who leaves everything on the ice any time he pulls a Rangers jersey over his head. He will make offensive plays, provide big hits and he also score key goals. Callahan had 16 goals and 15 assists along with a plus-nine rating during the regular season.

Goaltender Breakdown

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    Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins—Rask waited patiently for his opportunity to become the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender. He got that opportunity this year when former Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas went on walkabout and decided to take the year off.

    Rask was not a Vezina Trophy finalist this year, but he had a stellar year. Rask is a big goalie who covers the angles well and combines his size with excellent quickness and anticipation. Rask had a 2.00 goals-against average along with a .929 save percentage and five shutouts this season.

    He was a solid backstop for the Bruins in their seven-game first-round victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers—Lundqvist is the best goalie in the NHL. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2011-12 and is a finalist again this year. He had a 2.05 GAA and a .926 save percentage during the regular season.

    Lundqvist has been even better in the playoffs. He closed out the Caps with back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7.

Biggest Mismatch

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    The Bruins and Rangers are very similar teams in many ways.

    They are among the top five-on-five teams in the league. Both teams tend to struggle on the power play, while they are strong on the penalty kill.

    Both teams have coaches in Claude Julien (Boston) and John Tortorella (New York) who emphasize defense first.

    However, the Rangers have one huge advantage over the Bruins. New York did not lose a lead in any game in which they were ahead on the scoreboard after two periods.

    The Bruins had been strong in that area in each of the last two years, but they fell apart this season. Boston ranked 29th in protecting a lead after two periods. That could prove to be disastrous in a playoff series between two teams that are so evenly matched.

Boston Will Win If ...

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    The Bruins have excellent depth. Claude Julien likes to roll out four lines, and he wants to see the scoring distributed among them.

    While that happened in the Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup run, that has not happened this year. The line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin was strong during the regular season but struggled against the Leafs.

    David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton were inconsistent during the regular season, but were dynamic in the first round.

    Julien needs both lines to produce against the Rangers, and he needs support from the third and fourth lines as well.

    The Bruins also need to get healthy on defense. Neither Andrew Ference nor Wade Redden dressed for the seventh game due to injuries, while Dennis Seidenberg injured his leg early in the seventh game and played for less than one minute.

    If Seidenberg and Ference are unavailable, it would be very difficult for the Bruins to play competitive hockey.

New York Will Win If ...

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    The Rangers need stars like Brad Richards and Rick Nash to step up and score clutch goals against the Bruins.

    Both players were non-factors in the first-round win over the Caps. They combined for one goal and two assists. If they don't step up in this series, the Rangers will have little chance unless Henrik Lundqvist completely shuts down the Bruins.

    That's not out of the question. Lundqvist gets excellent support from his shot-blocking defense.

    The Bruins have been frustrated by their lack of consistency when it comes to offense, and Lundqvist could add to their frustration.

    If Lundqvist is at his best and the Rangers get a modicum of production from Richards and Nash, they will win the series.

Prediction

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    The Bruins have one of the most dangerous teams in the league. If Julien can get a complete effort from his team, the Rangers probably don't have the firepower to stay with them.

    However, the Bruins did not play their best hockey after the first two months of the season. They often struggled to complete easy passes and sustain consistent offense.

    If that's the Bruins team that shows up for this series, the Rangers defense and Lundqvist will shut them down.

    However, if their comeback against Toronto knocked out their inconsistency, they can get the best of their Original Six rivals.

    Rask is probably the X-factor for the Bruins. While he is not as dominant as Lundqvist, he is an excellent goalie. He can lead the Bruins to victory if he gets reasonable support.

    Look for the Bruins to give Rask just enough goal scoring to edge the Rangers in seven memorable games.

    Look for Bruins-Rangers hostilities to be renewed in a big way in this series.