WILMINGTON, Mass. – The Bruins get their first look Saturday at the team that might just be standing in their way when it really counts during the playoffs.
It’s not their traditional rivals, the Habs, or the team they've clashed with many times over the years, the Flyers. Instead, it's a team from the city Bostonians love to hate: New York.
The Rangers have led the Eastern Conference for most of the last month, and have matched the Bruins nearly every step of the way since Boston jumped into its “boom” stage at the beginning of November. So the B’s eagerly await a Saturday afternoon matinee against the Blueshirts following a challenging four-game southern road trip.
The Rags have hit their own tough stretch with three losses in their last five games, culminating in a home defeat to the Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this week. But John Tortorella’s boys still lead the East with 62 point.
“It’s gonna be a great game against the Rangers; it always is,” said Zdeno Chara. “They always battle hard and give you that game where you have to bring the physical element. You have to be willing to work extremely hard and they play a real grinding game. If you’re not ready and emotionally attached then you’re going to lose.”
It’s a difficult match for the B's, and has been for the last three years. Tortorella's tenets of hockeys are much the same as Claude Juliens, and the Rangers have won 7 of the last 12 meetings against Boston by the combined score of 26-18.
“They’ve got a lot of depth and a great goalie,” said Brad Marchand, describing the Rangers in terms that most people use to describe the Bruins. “We just have to make sure we’re prepared and ready to match their work ethic.
“Every team that plays us usually gets pretty psyched to play us, but they play a game that’s very similar to us. They have depth and [goalie Henrik] Lundqvist always seems to be in the right position. It’s a team we’re definitely aware of, but true rivalries are built in the playoffs at the end of the season.”
The Rangers play a difficult, in-your-face style and rely on the combination of staunch defensive and elite goaltending as the bed-rock of their game. In his career against the Bruins, Lundqvist is an amazing 16-5-2 with a .945 save percentage, 1.50 goals against average and five shutouts. He commands legitimate fear in a short playoff series when the time comes. With a young, strapping defense corps, the Rangers have a natural cast of characters for a strong defensive base. And the addition of Brad Richards has helped on the offensive side.
The Rangers looked like they were going to be a tough out in the playoffs last season, too, but couldn’t overcome the loss of captain Ryan Callahan, who broke a bone in his leg attempting to block a smoked Chara slapper late in the regular season.
This time around, the Rangers have the depth to overcome opponents with their waves of forwards. They even thrived during the first half of the season without franchise defenseman Marc Staal. Now Staal is healthy enough to play 20 plus minutes after recovering from post-concussion syndrome, and the Rangers have a full lineup.
“They have depth and that’s why they’re able to roll four lines. Goaltending is also not an issue with them,” said Julien. “There are some similarities. They also like to play a heavy game, so it will be an interesting game on Saturday.”
So the strong defense, deep offensive attack and elite goaltending combination give the Rangers a top-10 offense, the NHL’s No. 3 defense in goals against per game, and a hockey club that’s eerily similar to the Bruins.
It’s that carbon copy nature of the Rangers that gives Boston trouble .
“We haven’t seen New York yet this year, and they’ve had a lot of success,” said Adam McQuaid. “That means we’re going to have to work awfully hard. They play a hard game. Everybody from top-to-bottom finishes their hits and gets hard on the forecheck.
“They just plain compete hard.”
The Bruins and Rangers will meet three more times during the regular season after Saturday afternoon’s matinee, but first impressions are important when it comes to setting a tone for the rest of the season.
They've proven through the first half that they’re the two best teams in the East this season. Saturday represents the first chance for either team to throw a roundhouse punch at the other this year.
Tags: Boston Bruins
, New York Rangers