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PREVIEW: Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers
A Pair of Original 6 Blue Bloods reach the Eastern Conference Final Four
Fresh off a pair of exhilarating and stunning 7 Game Series Victories over the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers square off for what promises to be a hard-hitting, nip-tuck, goalie-centric battle, one in which puck possession, match-ups, and constant battles along the boards will play a huge role in determining who moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Interestingly enough, these two franchises last squared off in the Post-Season exactly 40 years ago, the same year that the Rolling Stones topped the charts with their hit "Angie", the Dow closed at 850, gasoline was 40 cents/gallon and Volkswagen debuted their wonky yet functional VW Thing. The year before that however they squared off in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Bruins taking the Series and the most famous Trophy in Sports in 6 Games
The Bruins come into this series long on heart and short on excuses, so the Rangers must realize right off the bat this their opponent is a major step up in class over their quarterfinal round combatants from D.C. The Bruins in turn will quickly cope to grips with the fact that the Rangers pose a more seasoned threat than their recently vanquished opponent in the Toronto Maple Leafs. James Reimer is a fine young goalie with much upside and the Leafs do have a number of solid defensemen, however it would be hard to imagine the Rangers giving away a 4-1 lead midway through the 3rd period of a deciding game.
At this time of year, injuries obviously factor into the mix and while the Rangers have had to cope with the absence of All-Star Defensemen Marc Staal, the other members of their defensive core have stepped up and played tremendously in Staal's absence. While both Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have consistently defined the term defensive stalwart over the course of their short careers, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Strahlman and John Moore have all stepped up their games with their post-season lives on the line. Look for Moore and Strahlman to get more ice time on the power play, as their wilingness to fire pucks on the net is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Blueshirts' miserable Power Play (2 for 28 in the Post Season).
Although no strangers to strong defensive play, the Bruins limp into the Semis with a sudden injury problem on the back-line. The potential absence of Dennis Seidenberg, Wade Redden (don't laugh Ranger fans...or curse profusely as the case may be) and Andrew Ference leaves Boston with the prospect of leaning on unproven youngsters for critical ice time in games that figure to be of the 2-1 variety. Knowing this and coupling it with their decided disadvantage between the pipes, the Bruins realize that they'll have to get major productivity out of their top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton in order to win the Series. Depth at forward is of course Boston's forte, as Patrice Bergeron proved in netting both the tying and winning goals in Monday's Game 7 thriller. As Coach John Tortorella looks to sway the match-ups to his favor, look for the Bruins to try and wear the Rangers down with their size, strength and overall toughness. The Rangers defensemen will without question have their hands full containing this elite group and despite Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's superb play in the Capitals Series, it would be hard to imagine the Rangers shutting this balanced, high-powered group down in such similar fashion.
This brings us to the topic of the Ranger Forwards, a group that managed to flip the score sheet upside down in the Quarterfinals Round. Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, Mats Zuccarello and Arron Asham were the surprise contributors while Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan continued to languish near the bottom in points and overall impact. Although Nash and Callahan continue to do good things that aren't always noticed, they'll have to undoubtedly put some ink on the scorecard this round if the Rangers are to move on. Richards' veteran presence cannot be overlooked, but as the younger Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin continue to prove their playoff mettle, life on the 4th Line would appear to be Richards' fate until he can earn his way out of that plight. If Rick Nash is to shake his offensive slump and re-emerge as the Rangers' top goal scorer, he wil no doubt have to do so against none other than the imposing Zdeno Chara - no small task to say the least
It's rare that Boston Goaltender Tuukka Rask looks down the other end of the ice and sees a better netminder staring back at him through the bars of his goalie mask. And although Rask backed up his stellar Regular Season with an impressive quarterfinals performance in a more offensively-inclined series, Lundqvist is simply playing at another level. Goals will be hard to come by in this Series, but if given the choice between Rask and Lundqvist in a lengthy, low scoring, evenly matched series, Lundqvist is the man you'd want defending the cage with all due respect to Rask.
Prediction: The Bruins are a little short on the blueline and face a Rangers Team that is suddenly getting balanced goal scoring from a number of unlikely sources. New York leads the Playoffs in blocked shots by a wide margin, and those shots that do get though must then find a way past reigning Vezina Trophy Winner and repeat finalist Henrik Lundqvist. Both teams have playoff veterans who know how to win when the stakes are raised, with Boston a mere 2 seasons removed from lifting Lord Stanley's Cup. Look for a very physical, hard fought series in which both teams will seek to impose their will and control time of possession. Intimidation might be Boston's best path to victory as they remain the bigger and stronger team. In the end however, look for the team with the best goalie in the world and a tough defensive core that sacrfiices their bodies on a night in and night out basis to escape by the narrowest of margins.
........Rangers in 7