B’s fans may still be riding high on the emotions of Monday’s stunning comeback against Toronto, but they’re likely to be slapped back to Earth a bit come Thursday’s matchup against the 6th seeded Rangers. Make no bones about it, this week’s 3rd period turnaround was nothing short of miraculous. At one point, even Jack Edwards was declaring that the Leafs would eliminate the Bruins and move on. Instead, they found that much talked about “missing” gear and played like the Cup contenders that many feel they are.
If the series against the Leafs taught us anything, it’s that nothing comes easy for these Bruins. With two chances to clinch, they couldn’t pull things together. Meantime, instead of resting up for the next series, they lost three defensemen to injury. Toronto’s speed and grit proved a tough match for Boston at times, and where that came from, New York’s got more. The Rangers also have a proven goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. If the B’s can make James Reimer look like Patrick Roy, Lundqvist might as well be working on his best Ken Dryden stick lean now. This series will come down to the battle between him and Tuukka Rask, who answered the critics with a strong first round performance. While he wasn’t the “carry them on his back” kind of goalie Tim Thomas was two years ago, Rask made the big saves he needed to, kept the Bruins around late in contests, and never actually cost his team a game. Rask will be the single most important factor in the B’s chances of winning this series. As good as he was against the Leafs, he’ll need to be even better against New York.
Some of the B’s youngest guns will also need to step up. With Dennis Seidenberg, Wade Redden, and Andrew Ference all looking to miss time, rookies Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, and even Torey Krug will all be counted on to protect the net and, above all else, move that puck! Captain Zdeno Chara will also need to step up his game. Likely playing even more time than usual, Chara will be tested often by the Rangers speedy forwards. He’ll need to plant that big frame in their path, force them to the outside, and then punish them against the boards. Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, and Jaromir Jagr will also be looked upon to pick up the offense and take some of the stress off the depleted D after being largely invisible against Toronto. Goals were hard to come by against Reimer. Getting to Lundqvist early and often could tilt the mental scales in this series.
Momentum is the final key to this matchup. Both teams have it after emotional 7 game series’ against evenly matched opponents with something to prove. The Rangers found their stride against a frustrated Washington club, shutting them out in the final two games and hanging a 5 spot in the clincher. Meanwhile, the Bruins timely awakening from the dead was one for the ages. The B’s NEED to build on the traction they created in the last 15 minutes of that hockey game. They showed what kind of team they can be. Now they need to stay at that level to remain in the playoffs. There are no more off days for this club.
The health of the Bruins defense goes a long way in determining how this series plays out. If Redden and Seidenberg can come back and be effective, they stand a chance at eeking out victory. Otherwise, a strong Rangers club may come out on top. Expect battles in the crease, both in the form of superb goaltending… and the scrums that erupt around them.
Prediction: Rangers in 7 games.