The Boston-New York rivalry takes center stage again, but this time the two products on the ice are going to be the main attraction. On Thursday night, the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers will convine for their first playoff meeting in 40 years.
The two teams had three close games during the regular season with the Bruins winning the opening night contest and the Rangers taking the next two in overtime and a shootout to earn another series victory. But the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a different beast and you can throw all matchups out the window. However, that doesn’t mean we can get acquainted to the opposition.
With that, Seth Rothman of Inside Hockey was nice enough to take time out of his day and answer a few questions about the Blueshirts for Bruins Daily. You can follow Seth and Inside Hockey on Twitter.
Bruins Daily: Thanks for joining us, Seth. The Rangers got off to a slow start in the regular season but in the last month really turned it on and are playing great hockey. What have been some of the keys to their late season turnaround?
Seth Rothman: As crazy as it sounds, trading away one of their top players really helped this team. When the Rangers lost Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov in the offseason, they pretty much lost the entire middle of their lineup. Rangers coach John Tortorella admitted late in the regular season they had no idea how much that would affect this team. Make no mistake, it really affected them. When they brought in Derick Brassard and Ryane Clowe at the trade deadline — as well as John Moore and Derek Dorsett, they were able to fill out the middle of their lineup. The impact of that can not be overstated
BD: While there was plenty of debate on Tuukka Rask getting snubbed of consideration for the Vezina Trophy (including from your’s truly), there’s no denying that Henrik Lundqivst is still one of the elite goaltenders in the league. What makes him stand out from the other goalies in the league? And does he also benefit from a good defense in front of him that likes to get physical in the dirty areas and block shots?
SR: Henrik Lundqvist certainly is helped by a good defense, but no team is going to survive with a bad defense — look at how Pittsburgh nearly got picked off in the first round. If their defense played better, it would have been no contest against the Islanders. Instead, they barely survived. You absolutely can not survive in the playoffs with a poor defense. It’s not like the regular season, you can not succeed this time of year that way. That being said, Lundqvist is certainly playing out of his mind right now. The argument can be made he’s playing better now than he did during most of his Vezina season last year. Why is he so good? He’s one of the most positionally sound goaltenders in the NHL. So few of his saves appear to be of the highlight variety because he is always square to the puck.
BD: Rick Nash only had two points in the Caps series. After being the big off-season acquisition, is that a reason for concern for Blueshirts fans? Is there more pressure that’s on him after the Marian Gaborik trade to be “the guy”?
SR: I certainly think there’s reason for concern. But I don’t think he’s not playing well because he’s feeling the pressure, I think he’s not playing well because something’s wrong. During the regular season he was consistently driving to the net, juking out the goaltender, or unleashing a hard wrister. Now? He’s backing in like a basketball power forward, and his shot does not have the zip it had two months ago. Is he hurt? It’s certainly possible. I do think he had one of his best games of the series in Game 7, so maybe he’s starting to feel better.
BD: Another guy whp’s been underperforming seemingly is Brad Richards who only tallied one point. But given his track record in the playoffs are you expecting him to bounce back?
SR: This has been who he’s been all season. He’s a guy that has not had a lot of success as the season has gone on. We’ve seen some flashes of it, but he certainly has had a frustrating season. It’s not for a lack of effort, either. He’s just struggled mightily. There are no easy answers for what ails Brad Richards.
BD: While the primary scoring options are underachieving, the Rangers certainly got secondary scoring. Derrick Brassard looks like he’s coming into his own and guys like Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello and Brian Boyle are adding timely scoring too. Is that something Torts will rely on again in Round 2 against a team who also likes to be physical?
SR: As you well know, hockey’s a team sport. If your secondary guys aren’t scoring, your team isn’t winning. That’s just the bottom line. The Rangers need Brassard to keep dishing, they need Carl Hagelin to keep using his speed to get open looks, and they need Mats Zuccarello to keep finding time and space. Brian Boyle hasn’t done a lot of scoring, but he’s been very important on the faceoff dots for the Rangers — which is an area of the game they’ve really struggled in, especially on the road.
BD: Obviously the Rangers have had their share of injuries from Marc Staal to Ryane Clowe, but the Bruins are also banged up on the blue-line and had to recall another defenseman from Providence. Even though they’ve struggled offensively, is this something the Rangers can take advantage of and get the Bruins playing catch up hockey early?
SR: A lot of people think John Tortorella wants his team to sit back into a defensive shell. That’s simply not accurate. This is a team that builds its offense through defense, that likes to play a hard-hitting game in the defensive end, and one that likes to create offense in transition after a defensive stop. It’s a hard forechecking team, and one that loves to play in the corners and along the walls. This is a team that will engage you in all three ends, and one that will run the D-core out of the building if they’re caught flat-footed.
BD: The Bruins have also had their inconsistencies offensively, but they got the top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton in tact for the postseason. Is that going to be the toughest matchup for the Rangers D?
SR: Well, the Rangers just held the line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin to a total of three goals and four assists over the seven-game series against Washington. New York’s top defensive pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi is as good a shut-down D-pair as any in the NHL. John Moore has been a revelation on both sides of the ice for the Rangers, while Michael Del Zotto and Steve Eminger have been solid in just over ten minutes a night. This is a very good D-core, and as the Rangers proved by holding Alex Ovechkin to only one goal the entire series (and no points after Game 2), the Bruins are going to have to rely on their secondary players to score goals. It’s going to be made very difficult for their top players.
BD: On paper this matchup still favors the Rangers. The Bruins have had their share of issues against the Rangers over the years and this year was no different even though all three games were close during the regular season. What’s been the blueprint to the Rangers’ success over the Bruins in the last few seasons?
SR: I don’t know if you can point to any one thing. The Rangers seem to thrive against teams that play a similar style, and Henrik Lundqvist is just so good in net. When you’re playing one-goal games, which these teams play a lot, it’s going to come down to a bounce. That’s why a lot of people are predicting a seven-game series. Teams are going to win a game on a rebound, a puck that just finds someone’s stick in front. With Lundqvist occupying the goal for the Rangers, they have the advantage in those kinds of games.
BD: Having said that, the playoffs are a different animal. What are the keys to a Rangers win in the series and a return trip to the Conference Finals.
SR: If Henrik Lundqvist continues to play the way he did in the first round, that’s the biggest key. Look, we’ve already talked about it throughout this interview — if the Rangers continue to get secondary scoring, they’ll be fine. If Rick Nash and Brad Richards can find the back of the net, they’re going to be very tough to beat. Here’s another key: The much-maligned Rangers power play, which was absolutely terrible during the first round. They somehow won despite the power play, but it was a ghastly 2-for-28 (7.1%) in the series. Against the Bruins, who had one of the best PK’s in the league during the regular season, the power play will have to be better.
BD: Finally, its prediction time. Who wins the series and in how many games?
SR: Rangers in 7. The way he’s playing right now, I just can’t pick against Henrik Lundqvist, and I think this is a Rangers team that really found its game after the trade deadline. They’re peaking at the right time.
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