BOSTON – The Bruins managed to clear the first hurdle with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but things will get grittier and heavier in the second round of the playoffs with the New York Rangers coming to Boston. The Bruins haven’t seen the Rangers since losing a 4-3 shootout at TD Garden way back on Feb. 12 that completed the season series with the Blueshirts, and Marian Gaborik has been traded away since the last time the two Eastern Conference rivals tangled.
There are some pretty obvious factors in the series: the brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist, the shot-blocking courage of the Rangers grinders and big, strong defensemen, and the short, sarcastic fuse of John Tortorella. Those are the obvious storylines that come to mind whenever Boston and New York smack heads during the regular season, and amazingly this will be the first time the Bruins and Rangers have met in the playoffs since 1973.
With all that in mind, here are the five keys to the second round playoff series against the Rags in what appears to be the chance to get punched out by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
1) The Bruins need to start paying more of a physical price. A big part of the problem with the B’s effort in the first round against the Maple Leafs was that the team turned back away from playing gritty, physical playoff hockey, and didn’t seem to want to sacrifice their bodies to make plays once they took control of the series. That was reflected in effort categories like registered hits and blocked shots, where the Leafs were outdoing the Bruins for large portions of the seven game series. Blocked shots, in particular, is an area where the Bruins need to step up and start doing something that isn’t exactly pleasant during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The situation becomes even more important when they lose Dennis Seidenberg, one of the best shot blockers on the Bruins roster. As it is now, Johnny Boychuk is leading the Bruins with 28 blocked shots in this season’s playoffs and the only other B’s player in double figures was Seidenberg. Some of the other Bruins players need to step up and start blocking more shots as there will be plenty of pucks fired at Tuukka Rask from the Rangers defensemen corps. Several times in the first round Zdeno Chara screened Rask on a shot from the outside while failing to block the shot, and that can’t happen again in the series against New York.
2) The second key is similar in the vein that the Bruins need to really pay the price in order to have success in the offensive zone as well. Quick puck movement side-to-side will be mandatory to try and beat the New York shot blockers in the box, but it will take heavy traffic and action in front of the net to get pucks past Henrik Lundqvist. King Henrik has a career 1.67 goals against average and .943 save percentage in 30 career games against the Bruins, and has six shutouts in 30 career games. That means 20 percent of his games against the Bruins have resulted in shutouts over the years. So the Bruins will need the kind of urgency and determination they showed in the third period and overtime in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs, if they want to find shooting lanes through the Rangers defense and goaltending. “We’re talking about traffic. We’re talking about net front, and we’re talking about getting pucks deep. Really, it’s a simple recipe and I think you could probably canvas all of these press conferences and with the questions to GM’s, you would probably hear a lot of the same film,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “He’s a big goalie. He’s been really good against us. You’ve got to move him around. You’ve got to get traffic. You’ve got to get pucks on him. There’s no magic.”
3) Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin need to get it going. Both players had well-chronicled struggles against the Maple Leafs in the first round, and are both still looking for their first goal of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Both forward were Boston’s two most prolific goal scorers during the regular season, and combined for 34 goals in Boston’s compacted 48 game schedule. The problems facing the two players are different: Marchand needs to keep getting back in touch with the Nose Face Killah agitating style and fearlessness around the net that usually determine how effective he’s going to be, and Seguin needs to start figuring out different, creative ways to attack defenders rather than just relying on skating speed to go around defenders. Only James van Riemsdyk, Patrice Bergeron, Henrik Zetterberg and Alex Ovechkin had more shots on net than Seguin in the first round of the playoffs, so No. 19 has the right idea to create scoring chances. But varying his moves, working on his vision so he can pick up open teammates and becoming more of a complete playmaker is something that would help him finally unlock his offensive game. Either way, the Bruins will need both of them against the Rangers.
4) The Rangers managed to beat the Washington Capitals in a seven game series despite Rick Nash never scoring a goal, and only a pair of assists along with 22 shots on net. New York is averaging only 2.25 goals per game during the playoffs, and is experiencing their own serious offensive struggles in a theme that’s been repeated out for that team over the past few years. Clearly the Bruins will put Zdeno Chara on the ice when the hulking Nash is in the offensive zone, and it will be another matchup of two physical specimens. But there’s also an element of letting the sleeping giant keep on snoozing if Nash has been completely out of sorts offensively, and is perhaps feeling pressure on his shoulders like he never had when he was going through the motions for the Blue Jackets. Likewise, Brad Richards only had a goal in seven games against the Capitals and is due to bust out as well. Nobody would have guessed that Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello would be the Rangers’ leading scorer two weeks into the playoffs, but the Bruins are hoping to keep that trend going as it will mean New York’s big guns are still shooting blanks.
5) Rangers head coach John Tortorella constructed a third line during the playoffs of Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett and Taylor Pyatt, and that kind of big, strong, physical forward group could do some damage if used properly against a fellow big, strong, physical group like the Bruins. That will be the gritty bottom-six line that Boston’s third and fourth lines will need to match in terms of production, energy and impact in the series. But the Bruins have enjoyed some success in the past enticing Boyle into taking bad penalties, and getting him frustrated against the hockey club he grew up rooting for as a hockey standout in Hingham. The overgrown forward excels at playing the gritty center role, blocking shots and trying to get under other team’s skin, and will be effective against the Black and Gold if they can’t get him to go over the edge a bit. In the end, much of the series between two evenly-marched, heavy hockey clubs will be about which team makes fewer mistakes, and which teams opens up fewer scoring windows for an opponent that’s experienced difficulty scoring goals this season.