Round 2 will start tonight for the Blueshirts. The Rangers will face off against the Bruins in the playoffs for the first time in 40 years. It has been a while since the New York-Boston rivalry has been showcased on ice. But starting tonight it will resume after four decades. Both teams are coming into this series on a high note. Both teams had unbelievable game 7′s in their previous round of the playoffs. Both incredible but very different. The Rangers blew out the Capitals in Washington by a score of 5-0. In doing so they played their best game of the playoffs. As for Boston, we all know the come back that took place on Monday night. The stage is set for a fun series if you ask me. Let’s breakdown this Original Six match-up.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
1) Patrice Bergeron- The hero of the game 7 miracle that took place on Monday night. Scoring the tying goal with under a minute left and then tallying the game winner in OT. Before the heroics however Bergeron had only scored one goal in six games against the Leafs. But this probably was the start of him catching fire. Bergeron is an unbelievable two-way hockey player that does it all for the Bruins. He is usually playing with Brad Marchand and the two make for a dynamo combination. With the excellent line however, in the Leafs series the line did not produce a whole lot and faced heavy criticism during the series. But they got it done when it mattered the most and that is what’s most important. After a slow start you can expect this line and Patrice Bergeron to heat up during the Ranger series. If this line plays to the potential they can play at, expect the Rangers top defensive pair to be defending against them the entire series.
2) Rick Nash- I saw more Rick Nash haters than ever before in the series against Washington. Even people who said Rick Nash was incredible during the regular season completely went off on the guy. I for one believe he did not have THAT bad of a series. By no means was he outstanding but much credit should be given to Washington for defending him perfectly. Nash also really only had two terrible games as well. Games 4 and 5 he was invisible and did not make any impact at all. But in the other games I thought he was good. In game 1 he had 8 shots, in game 2 he got completely unlucky and hit a goal post that would have had the Rangers winning in regulation, in game 3 he had the beautiful pass to Stepan for the game winning goal, and in games 6 and 7 he had some chances and was very noticeable. Keep in mind this is with everyone zeroing in on Nash and playing him incredibly hard. It was only his second playoff series too. I am not saying he was great but by no means was he bad. He was decent. I am also a believer that the other lines would not have the space or opportunities they are getting if Nash was not on the team for the sole reason that the opponent is putting their top d-man on him. I said after game 2 the Rangers must get Richards off the line with Nash and put him on a line with Brassard. I guess Tortorella read my article because he did exactly that. In game 7 that line was great with Brassard, Nash and Zuccarello. Kudos to the coaching staff. I expect Rick Nash to get his first playoff goal as a Ranger (his first was with Columbus in 2009) and be even more dangerous in this series.
3) Zdeno Chara- Here is a warning for all Ranger fans: get ready to see Chara the most you have ever seen him play. In this series it is going to
feel like Chara will never get off the ice for the Bruins. Not only for the fact that he is the number 1 defenseman for Boston or that he will be playing against Rick Nash, but because the Bruins are a banged up team right now. The Bruins just lost a huge part of their defense with the injury to Dennis Seidenberg. The length of the injury he suffered is unknown. Not to mention their blue line was already banged up with Wade Redden and Andrew Ference also suffering injuries. They both did not play in game 7 against the Leafs. Their injuries have no timetable as well. The Bruins already have rookie Dougie Hamilton playing in his first playoffs and they will call up Torey Krug from Providence for the beginning of the series. It is safe to say the Bruins defense is not in the best of shape. They do not know when their defense will be fully healthy again either. This means that Chara will have too step up like never before. Now lucky for the Bruins the Rangers are not a high-powered offensive team. But there is a chance they will score a decent amount considering their recent offensive performance in Washington. It is up to Chara to not only play HUGE minutes for the B’s, but too be a shutdown guy for all of those minutes he will play. Chara will play 25 minutes a night easily for Boston and the captain/cornerstone of this franchise will have to play the best hockey of his career if he wants his team too advance. There is no denying the play of Chara will determine the outcome of this series.
4) Derek Dorsett- I could go and write about a guy like Brassard or Zuccarello with their wonderful talent. But I write about Dorsett because the man was simply an animal in games 6 and 7 of the Washington series. Dorsett is scrappy and always manages to go to the front of the net. He always hits and plays so effectively. In game 6 Dorsett drew two huge penalties against the Capitals. In game 7 Dorsett was all over the ice again and had an assist. For those of you who saw closely on the Pyatt goal, Dorsett re-directed the shot from the blue line perfectly to Pyatt’s stick. It was a hell of a play. The Rangers needed a guy like this for most of the season. They finally got him at the most important time of the year. I cannot wait too see Dorsett go up against a physical team like Boston. Earlier on in the year I asked my father what he thought about the Rangers playing the Bruins in the playoffs. I thought the Rangers matched up well against the B’s but he said the Rangers were too soft and the Bruins would just beat them up. Well Dorsett is one of those guys who makes the whole Ranger line-up a lot tougher. It is going to be a lot of fun to see Dorsett go up against guys like Chara and Lucic in this series. Dorsett has a big role with the team and he will have a big impact on the Rangers in this series.
GOALIE MATCH-UP: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Tuukka Rask- Henrik Lundqvist had himself a dandy of a series against Washington. He had bad 50 seconds in game 1, but after that he was lights out. He had two back to back shutouts in games 6 and 7. The last time a goalie had back to back shutouts in games 6 and 7 was in 2000. Dominik Hasek was the goalie who did it. He should of had a third shutout in the series but the Rangers could not score a goal in game 2. It is safe to say the King is on top of his game right now and in his prime. When the best goalie in the world is in his prime with a ton of confidence that does not sit well for the other team. It will take a lot for the Bruins to beat Lundqvist as of now. They have a physical team to do it and they will have to score a ton of scrappy goals to beat him. Now we turn to Tuukka Rask. In his first season taking over for Tim Thomas, Rask has had himself a very solid season. Many fans believe he was snubbed out of being nominated for a Vezina trophy. He was in the Vezina discussion for most of the season. He was that good this year. He had a good series against the Leafs as well. He may not have had the best numbers but timely saves and clutch performance was certainly on the resume. Rask may see a different Ranger team than Holtby saw for much of the first round though. The Rangers may have found their scoring touch and they did play their best game of the season on Monday night. If the Rangers can be consistent with their effort they put together on Monday, than Rask will have his hands full in this series. If not, than Rask will have it easier but Rask must play the way he has played this year if the Bruins want to beat the Rangers. As for who gets the edge in the series? It is without question Henrik Lundqvist. It will be very difficult for Tuukka Rask to outshine the King in this series.
1) Special Teams- What else is new? In the regular season the Rangers power play was ranked 23rd in the league. Boston’s was worse. They were ranked 26th in the league. So far in the playoffs the Rangers have had the second worst power play only in front of the already eliminated Minnesota Wild. They were 2 for 26 in their series with Washington. That is a joke. The Bruins power play is ranked 11th in the post season. It is better than the Rangers but their power play is also nothing to be proud of. I don’t expect either team to be very good on the power play obviously. I also expect both penalty kills to be dominant. Unlike the Washington series where I said special teams would decide the series, I do not think special teams will determine the outcome of the series. However the team with the better power play certainly will get a huge boost. It is not the question of whose power play will be better, but whose power play will be worse in this series?
2) Bruin’s Defense- When describing Chara as a player to watch in the series I emphasized heavily on the fact that the Bruins are shorthanded defensively. They could potentially be missing 3 of their starting defenseman to open the series. They also may not have those guys for a few games into the series. The Bruin defense is on life support and if one more defenseman went down it would be an utter catastrophe. The defenseman who are still there must, MUST be huge for the Bruins. Specifically Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk because they’re the two best defenseman on the B’s. They have to be or the Bruins will be eliminated. Now let’s not underestimate the performance of Hamilton and Adam McQuaid. They must be equally effective in the series for the Bruins to prevail. It is up to the Rangers to take advantage of the injured defense of the Bruins. The shortened bench of defense for the B’s is a big factor in this series.
3) Ranger’s Physicality- Boston’s identity is with out a doubt their physicality. They can beat you to a pulp and they can hit you extremely hard. The Rangers are going to have to be very physical to play with the Bruins even though they are not that physical of a team. Ryane Clowe is a player that the Rangers will miss in this series if he cannot make a return. Marc Staal is also arguably the most physical Ranger defenseman so he will be equally as missed as Clowe. It is up to the other Rangers to be physical. The guys who must shine in this series are Callahan, Zuccarello, Dorsett, Pyatt, Boyle and Asham. Those Rangers must be the players to get their nose dirty and win the physical battles against a big, tough Bruins line-up. If the Rangers can match the physicality Boston will throw at them they will beat the Bruins.
PREDICTION: RANGERS IN 4-“What on earth is this guy smoking?!” That is exactly what’s going through your mind right now as a Ranger or
Bruin fan. Everyone believes it will be a long, grueling, hard-fought series but I for one am not buying it. I believe some of the games will be close but I don’t think the series will be. Here is the main reason I think the Rangers will sweep Boston. The Ranger game 7 win was much better for a team than the Bruin game 7 win. “Why on earth does he think that, the Bruin win was way more incredible!!!” Well the reason is because the Bruin win may of been more incredible, but it was also a very emotional win, in fact too emotional. As a hockey team in the playoffs the absolute worst thing that your team can go through is a very emotional win against a hated rival early in the playoffs, in my opinion. That is the complete setup for an “emotional letdown” the next series. Last year in the playoffs it was very evident. The Flyers had their emotional win against the Penguins and after that the life was sucked out of them. They lost to the Devils in 5 games and were a no show for parts of the series. The Devils beat their hated rival in the Conference finals last year and lost to the Kings in 6 the next round. Let’s go back 1979 when the Rangers beat the Islanders in 6 games to advance to the Cup Final. The Rangers were heavy underdogs and had an incredible emotional win. They then lost to Montreal in 5 games the next round and did not put much of a fight up at all. There is certainly evidence of this theory. Now ironically this same Bruin team beat Montreal in a very emotional first round match-up in 2011. They won in seven games on their journey to Lord Stanley. Where was the emotional let down there? Boston did not have one that year BUT for one big reason. Who did the Bruins play the next round? The Philadelphia Flyers. The same Flyers team that stunned the Bruins the previous year in the playoffs when they came back to beat Boston down 0-3. The Bruins remembered that series and were an exception to the “emotional letdown” because they were able to find motivation to beat the Flyers from what happened the year prior. So there was the exception. And I am sure it has happened other times in the past but not many times. Not compared to the amount of a times the emotions let the teams down the following round. This year with the injuries the Bruins now have, they could potentially fall off a cliff. Yes, a cliff of emotion. This time there is no motivation to beat a Ranger organization they have not seen in the playoffs for 40 years. I believe they will have an “emotional letdown” this series. What is worse for Boston is that the Rangers come into this series with their confidence soaring. There is no question the Rangers biggest win of the season was on Monday and it was their best. The team took a huge step forward that night and they will only build off that win. Their lines are playing great, they have so much confidence, and they have the best goalie in the world. That makes for a lot of trouble for the opponent. Not only do I say the Rangers will win in four, but specifically I expect the Bruins to be flat in game 1 and the Rangers to jump out all over them. In game 2 the Bruins will be re-energized but Lundqvist will steal the game. After an 0-2 hole Boston will be in, I expect the Rangers to come back and win two at the Garden. It is a bold prediction. One that no one sees coming. We will find out what plays out in the series as the puck drops tonight.