“Heavy” and “hard-fought” are probably the two best ways to describe the hockey that everyone is about to see in second round of the playoffs between bitterly rival cities of New York and Boston.
The Bruins and Rangers play a similar bruising, grinding style that favors defense and goaltending over offensive derring-do, and both clubs have already proven they’re willing to pay a heavy -- there’s that word again -- price for what needs to be done.
It will be a far cry from the last series, when the young, mistake-prone Toronto defense crew regularly turned pucks over and created offensive opportunities the Bruins could exploit. You won’t see any Rangers defenseman making dunderheaded pinches in overtime to register a heavy hit while allowing the Bruins to rush up the ice for the game-winning goal.
“These guys, they play like us, they play like us,” admitted Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “They are big, strong, disciplined and willing to do what it takes to win the hockey game.
They’re probably heavier, more or less. I don’t know if [Marc] Staal is going to be in, but [Dan] Girardi, guys like that.
“[Henrik Lundqvist] is a terrific, terrific goalie. They’re a little deeper now because they’ve got two or three . . . centermen . . . So they’re a little deeper, not as much game-breaking ability, not as much speed as Toronto; Toronto’s a fast club.”
Lundqvist, of course, is a big part of what the Broadway Blueshirts are about.
The Rangers led the NHL with 162 blocked shots during the first round of the playoffs, and rode 120 straight scoreless minutes from Lundqvist in Games 6 and 7 to advance past the Washington Capitals.
They’re missing a key piece of their defensemen crew in Staal, but they’ve still got Ryan McDonagh and Girardi leading a big, strong, experienced group of blueliners that straps on hard hats every day. David Krejci led the entire NHL field with 13 points in the first round of the playoffs, but the playmaking center fully understands this is going to be a much more difficult grind to finish off offensive plays.
He also understands that Lundqvist has won 21 of his 30 career games against the Bruins with six shutouts, a .943 save percentage and a 1.67 goals against average, and is in a two-man club with Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller as the two puck-stoppers that have given the Black and Gold the most trouble over the last few years.
“[Lundqvist] is a great goalie. If he can see the puck then he’s going to stop it,” said Krejci. “We’ve played so many games against him, and so many of them were low scoring, 1-0 or 2-1, games. We’ve only scored one or two goals against him each we play them because he’s a good goalie.
“But it will go in if he can’t see it. I’m going to try and get in front of him every chance that I get, and hopefully a few pucks will be able to get past him.”
The Bruins, on the other hand, blocked only 92 shots in the first round against the Maple Leafs, and seemed to be in a perpetual state of wavering about whether they wanted to pay the necessary price. The Bruins were favored over Toronto in that first round, but did the bare, admittedly miraculous minimum to simply skimp by.
That won’t be possible against a Rangers team that’s allowing only 1.71 goals per game, and constantly practices the kind of tight defense the Bruins have been known for over the last six years. Boston’s typical erratic effort won’t get it done against a Rangers team that has embraced the hard-nosed approach of their coach John Tortorella.
“[Playing vs. the Rangers] gives you an idea of how hard you can be to play against,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Every game against those guys has been pretty well the same. [We’re] always close in scoring, and at the same time gritty, but also heavy sticks, heavy on the puck. I know I use the term [a lot, but] it makes for a heavy game.
“It’s not necessarily up and down, up and down, but a lot of battles on the walls. You’re going to see a lot of battles in front of the net. They protect their goaltender fairly well. You know he’s good enough to stop what he sees. They box out extremely well, so we’ve got to work hard to take away that vision he needs in order to stop pucks. There’s going to be a lot of battles, I think, in this series. By the end of the series, I think you’re going to have some exhausted teams.”
The good news for the Bruins: Rick Nash and Brad Richards both struggled offensively in the first round against Washington, and didn’t score a single goal against a Capitals defense that frustrated them as completely as it flummoxed Boston in their playoff series last year. Nash was a non-factor, and appears to be feeling the pressure of being a premier player in an important postseason series. That’s the kind of pressure he never experienced in his four career playoff games with the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to this season.
The bad news for the Bruins: Both Nash and Richards could turn it around at any time and the patchwork B’s defense might give them the opportunity, as it looks like there will be a rookie blueliner on each of the three defensive pairings to start the series. The last game Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton played together was a road game against the Flyers during the regular season, and that game was a disaster from beginning to end for the Black and Gold.
Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski will need to play the kind of sound, poised game that they exhibited in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs, and Torie Krug will need to join the rookie defensemen party as well.
It won’t be easy, and in fact it will be damned difficult. But the Bruins can win this series against the Rangers if they’re consistently playing to the best of their abilities, something they didn’t do nearly enough during the regular season.
My prediction: The injuries on the Boston blueline, and the team's general inconsistency, will prove to be the B's ultimate undoing. The Rangers will defeat the Bruins in a hard-fought seven game series. The Bruins simply don’t know how to lose in the playoffs any other way.