Rangers, Bruins begin ‘physical’ Eastern Conference semifinals
Dan Girardi summed up the impending Rangers-Bruins Eastern Conference semifinal series with one word: physical.
“It’s definitely going to be physical for sure,” Dan Girardi said following a spirited practice at the Rangers’ training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. Wednesday in preparation for the best-of-seven series which begins Thursday night at the T.D. Garden in Boston.
This will be the 10th time the Original Six brethren have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers have lost six of the nine series, but won the last meeting, a five-game elimination of the Bruins way back in the 1973 quarterfinals.
The Rangers won two of the three regular season matchups between the long time rivals, including a 4-3 shootout win in Boston on Feb. 12, the last time the teams met. Both teams finished with nine goals scored in the three games.
“[We played] them three times in the first couple weeks and that’s pretty much it,” Girardi said.
At first glance, the Bruins and Rangers appear to be mirror images of each other. The Bruins ended the regular season with one more goal than the Rangers (127-126). The Rangers finished the regular season ranked third in the NHL in hits (1,413) and sixth in blocked shots (773), while Boston was 10th (1,200) and 22nd (650) in those categories.
“I think the teams are pretty similar,” Girardi said. “Both teams want to get on the forecheck, create some momentum that way.”
When the Bruins are at their best, Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton is able to use their size to wear down their opponents in the offensive zone. The trio totaled 29 points in the seven-game Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Maple Leafs.
“It’s going to be a pretty good challenge for us,” Girardi said. “I think they’re going to do their best to get in front of [Henrik Lundqvist] and bring pucks to the net. We just have to be strong down the walls, make sure they can’t get to the front and just be strong. [We] can’t let them push us around in front of the net. We have to make sure [it's clear] for Hankie in front – let him [see] shots.”
Like the Bruins, the Rangers also have size. Since the trade deadline acquisitions of Ryane Clowe from San Jose and the triumvirate of Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore from Columbus, the Rangers are 13-7.
“We’re able to play the way we want to play more consistently because I think we have a deeper lineup,” head coach John Tortorella said. “I think we played our best game of the seven game series in Game 7. I’m hoping that transfers over to the start of the [Bruins] series, where I can use the whole bench.”
One of the themes in the series win over Washington was the Rangers’ secondary scoring. While the Capitals kept the Rangers’ stars in check, the Southeast Division champions did not have an answer for the Blueshirts’ depth.
Brassard totaled nine points in the seven games. Mats Zuccarello and Carl Hagelin finished with five points (one goal and four assists) and four points (two goals and two assists), respectively. Linemates Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt recorded three points (two goals and an assist) each.
“For a team, it helps when your second [and] third line guys contribute, as our team did, but for the top end guys, that’s why they are where they are [as] top players because they want that,” Tortorella said. “So I don’t think it takes any pressure off them. I think they want to be the person to make a difference.”
One such player is Rick Nash. Nash only had two assists against the Capitals, but he did lead the team with 22 shots in the seven games. Tortorella believes the left wing is due to break out.
“He played really well in Game 7, and really didn’t have many bad games in the series. In Washington he didn’t finish,” Tortorella said. “He certainly wasn’t totally on but he’s very close. I thought he played very well in Game 7. He’s playing and I think he’s going to be a really big part of this as we enter into Boston.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.