Published January 13, 2015
A pair of Original Six rivals will battle in the playoffs for the first time in 40 years on Thursday, as the Boston Bruins host the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Although the Rangers and Bruins have met nine times in the playoffs this is the first encounter since the 1973 quarterfinals, when New York downed Boston in five games.
Both clubs enter this series after being pushed to the limit in the opening round. The Rangers beat Washington in seven games, closing out the series with Monday's 5-0 win in D.C., but Boston's Game 7 was much more dramatic.
Thanks to a ferocious comeback in the closing minutes on Monday, the fourth- seeded Bruins are still alive in the playoffs. Boston nearly blew a 3-1 series lead to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1, losing Games 5 and 6 before falling behind 4-1 in the third period of the decisive contest in Boston.
Boston was down 4-1 after Nazem Kadri tallied 5:29 into the third period, but the Bruins scored three unanswered goals and tied the game on Patrice Bergeron's marker with 50.2 seconds left in regulation. Bergeron then netted the game-winner 6:05 into overtime to cap a 5-4 comeback win and move Boston into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Now, the B's find themselves in the second round for the fourth time in five seasons. The only exception was last spring when Boston lost to Washington in the opening round the year after winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1972.
While Bergeron came up with two big goals in Game 7, fellow forward David Krejci led the way on offense for Boston in Round 1. Krejci, who led Boston with 23 points on 12 goals and 11 assists during the 2011 title run, paced the B's with five goals and eight assists against Toronto.
With his defensive ability, Bergeron could be Boston's most important player up front. He won the Selke Trophy last year as the NHL's best defensive forward and is one of three finalists for the award this season. Bergeron led all Boston forwards in ice time in the opening round, logging just over 20 minutes a game as he posted three goals and an assist against the Leafs.
Krejci, Bergeron and Nathan Horton, who had four goals and three assists in the opening round, combined to score 12 of Boston's 22 goals against Toronto.
Milan Lucic also recorded nine points on two goals and seven assists against the Maple Leafs, while Jaromir Jagr failed to score but chipped in with four assists. The 41-year-old Jagr leads all active players with 193 career playoff points (78 goals, 115 assists).
Johnny Boychuk added two goals from the back end in Round 1, but Zdeno Chara led all Boston defensemen with eight points on one goal and seven assists. The big Slovakian also led the Bruins with an average of 28 minutes, 54 seconds of ice time per game over the seven contests. With fellow defensemen Andrew Ference, Wade Redden and Dennis Seidenberg all battling injuries, Chara may actually see his playing time increase in the second round.
Seidenberg and Ference did not practice on Wednesday, while Redden skated briefly before leaving the session early. Bruins head coach Claude Julien isn't saying whether any of the three players will be available for Game 1 on Thursday.
The injuries mean Julien may have to ask for more minutes from unproven defensemen like Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask went 19-10-5 with a 2.00 goals against average during the regular season but he posted a 2.49 GAA in seven games against the Leafs. All told, the Finnish netminder is 11-9 with a 2.57 GAA in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the backbone of the Rangers is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner certainly showed his worth in the opening round against Washington.
After posting consecutive shutouts against the Capitals in Games 6 and 7, the 31-year-old Swede finished the series with a 1.65 GAA and .947 save percentage. He has eight career postseason shutouts and five of them have come since the start of the 2012 playoffs.
Lundqvist enters Round 2 riding a scoreless streak of 120 minutes after allowing his last goal -- an overtime game-winner -- to Washington's Mike Ribeiro in Game 5.
Logging the big minutes in front of Lundqvist are defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who both averaged more than 25 minutes of ice time a game in Round 1. Girardi and Michael Del Zotto led the Rangers' blue line with one goal and one assist each, while Steve Eminger chipped in with two helpers.
Like the Bruins, New York's most glaring weakness is scoring. The Rangers have enough talent up front to sustain pressure, but they often wind up with little to show for it.
Leading the charge for New York on offense in the opening round was Derick Brassard, a player who was acquired at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Marian Gaborik to Columbus. Brassard tied four other players for the team lead with two goals against the Caps and he also recorded seven assists.
Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan each posted two goals for New York's balanced scoring attack in Round 1.
However, the Rangers are waiting for Rick Nash and Brad Richards -- the club's two most expensive skaters -- to chip in on offense.
Nash, who comes with an annual cap hit of $7.8 million, was acquired in a trade with Columbus last summer to help make New York a more formidable offensive team. He did lead the Rangers with 21 goals in the regular season, but had just two assists in the seven-game set.
Richards, who signed a nine-year, $58.5 million contract prior to the 2011-12 season, had one goal in the opening round. A former Conn Smythe winner for Tampa Bay in 2004, Richards recorded six goals and nine assists for the Rangers in last year's playoffs.
The Rangers won two of three meetings against the Bruins this season, but the clubs haven't played each other since Feb. 12, when New York notched its second OT victory of the season against Boston.
Despite winning two of the three games, Lundqvist had a lofty 2.95 GAA against Boston this season, while Rask went 1-0-2 with a 2.62 GAA.
Nash paced New York with three assists in the season series, while Gaborik led the team with three goals against Boston before being traded. Lucic, Horton and Brad Marchand each notched two goals for the Bruins.
Game 2 of this series is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.
The Bruins were 16-5-3 as the host during the regular season and 2-2 in the first round. New York was 1-3 at Washington in Round 1, posting its only road win in Game 7. The Rangers were 10-12-2 as the guest in 2013.