Will Rangers vs. Bruins Playoff Series Live Up to Postseason Rivalry of Old?
Get ready for another bloodletting between New York and Boston.
This time it will play out on the ice at TD Garden and Madison Square Garden.
It's a rivalry that was once the most bitter in the NHL, but it's also one that has been dormant for years.
The last time the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers met in a playoff series was 1973. The Bruins featured Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Derek Sanderson. The Rangers had Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert, Brad Park and Eddie Giacomin.
The Rangers won that '73 meeting in five games. The two teams had also met in 1970 and '72. The Bruins won both of those, and the '72 series was for the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers and Bruins had a blood lust for each other. The Bruins did not carry the appellation of "Big and Bad" for no reason, and they regularly used their aggression to torment the more finesse-oriented Rangers.
They were often characterized as animalistic by the New York media. When the Bruins would take the ice in New York, Madison Square Garden organist Eddie Layton would welcome them by playing "Talk to the Animals" from the 1967 movie Dr. Dolittle.
However, the Bruins were far more than a team of bullies. They had remarkable skill and ability. Orr gave them a huge advantage over every team they faced, and he provided the difference in most matchups with the Rangers.
His speed, quickness and ability to turn defense into offense allowed him to make spectacular plays at the biggest moments, and he often tormented Giacomin, who was one of the best goalies of his era.
"Fast Eddie" depended on his intelligence, puck handling and quick reflexes to shut down most opponents. However, when Orr took the puck coast to coast or fed the goal-hungry Esposito in the slot, it was usually too much for Giacomin.
The Rangers could pass the puck like few teams of that era. Ratelle was an artist, and Gilbert was his linemate who could let loose with a booming slap shot or lightning-quick wrister. Park was the second-best defenseman in the league, but he was not in Orr's class. Nobody was.
When the two teams get together for the start of their conference semifinal series Thursday night, they will not resemble their predecessors.
The Bruins are still physical and thunderous, but they are a defense-first team that depends on goaltending and opportunistic scoring under head coach Claude Julien.
They have nights where they can make the scoreboard light up—such as the miraculous comeback they made Monday night in the seventh game against the Toronto Maple Leafs—but most nights they struggle to make plays and score goals.
The Rangers are a similar team. Head coach John Tortorella demands defensive responsibility and sacrifice from his players. That means putting their bodies in front of shots to prevent scoring opportunities.
Offensively, the Rangers have shown some recent improvement since adding Derick Brassard from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline, but they are not a high-scoring team either.
Tuukka Rask has stepped in nicely for the Bruins after former Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas decided to take the year off. Rask may not be quite as spectacular as Thomas, but he is one of the better goaltenders in the league—2.00 goals against average, .929 save percentage and five shutouts during the regular season—and many thought he would be a Vezina finalist.
As good as Rask is, he is not in Lundqvist's class. Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy last year and is a finalist this year. He is probably the best goalie in the world.
He certainly added to his reputation in the Rangers' first-round victory over the Washington Capitals when he blanked them in Games 6 and 7.
Who will win the Bruins-Rangers playoff series?
The Bruins will try to get to Lundqvist by putting plenty of traffic in front of him. The line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic was on fire against Toronto, but it struggled throughout much of the season.
Seventh-game hero Patrice Bergeron and linemates Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin struggled for much of the Toronto series, but they were strong during the regular season.
If the Bergeron line can become a factor, the Bruins should have a good chance in this series.
The Rangers need stars Rick Nash and Brad Richards to become consistent offensive factors. Neither player made an impact against the Caps.
The Bruins have injury problems on the blue line as Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden may not be available for the first game or more.
This should be a series that features heavy hitting and thunderous body checks. Boston's Zdeno Chara and Lucic should lead the way in this area, but the Rangers will not back down one iota.
Even with their feisty demeanor, the Rangers may eventually wear down in the physical war since the Bruins are bigger physically.
This series figures to turn mean quickly. These are two teams that are going to fight hard to advance. Neither team should give much territory.
In the old days, the hatred came to the surface. Fights were frequent and blood was spilled.
The teams didn't like each other, and the New York-Boston regional war only made it more intense.
Many years have gone by, but little has changed in that regard.
This will be a series to remember.
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