Series Review – Bruins Power Past Rangers to Reach Eastern Conference Final
Heading into their Eastern Conference Semi-final encounter, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers looked well matched, both having won their respective quarterfinals after enduring tense Game Sevens. The Rangers had recovered from a 2-0 hole and then a 3-2 deficit in their series to destroy the Capitals in Washington. Meanwhile, the Bruins had thrown away a 3-1 series lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs, before a stunning 3-goal comeback in the dying moments of Game Seven at TD Garden and then stealing the victory in overtime to break Leaf hearts.
Needless to say, despite expectations of another war of attrition, this series wasn’t really too close in the end. The Bruins proved too powerful for the Rangers all over the ice, despite the remarkable efforts of Henrik Lundqvist, and triumphed by a series score of 4-1. A result that ultimately proved the end of John Tortorella in the Big Apple. Ahead of their Eastern Conference Final against the explosive Pittsburgh Penguins, this post takes a look at how a powerhouse Boston line-up smashed their way past a gritty New York team.
The opening game of the series was a game in which both teams enjoyed spells of dominance with the puck, but only Boston made their possession count when it really mattered. The goalless first period featured the Bruins usual tactic of getting big bodies deep into the offensive zone before finding defencemen at the point for plenty of shots. For the Rangers, it was a case of watching Henrik Lundqvist bail them out time after time with an array of saves, the Swede would end up with 45 in total for the night. Though the Rangers had less attacks during the period, they did pose a large threat when using their dynamic speed on the breakaway.
Boston took the lead halfway through the second, David Krejci bursting into the offensive zone, pivoting and laying a pass to Zdeno Chara. The huge defencemen fired a blistering slap-shot which somehow squirmed its way past Lundqvist, the goaltender pushing the puck into his own net after pressure from skaters in his crease. The Rangers seemed to settle down after conceding and tied the game at 1-1 with 3 seconds left in the period. With Rick Nash using his speed and strength to circle the Bruins net, he lifted the stick of Tyler Seguin and got the puck to Ryan McDonagh. The defenceman wasted no time in firing a bullet over Tukka Rask’s right shoulder for his first goal of the playoffs.
The Rangers, having ended the second on top, began the third with a bang resulting from excellent two-man pressure on the puck-carrier. After stealing possession, Carl Hagelin utilised his speed before sliding the puck across to Derek Stepan, who sent an instant low wrist-shot past Rask to give his team a 2-1 lead, just 14 seconds into the period. Despite the Bruins looking shaky for the next minute, they soon got a reply from the unlikeliest of sources, a power-play goal.
The mythical beast so rarely sighted during a Boston performance was also the catalyst for one of the stories of the postseason so far. Youngster Dougie Hamilton fizzed a pass across to rookie defenceman Torey Krug, a last-minute addition to a line-up decimated by injuries to veteran d-men, who was in several years of space. He sent a shot awkwardly past Lundqvist, the positioning of the effort difficult for the goaltender, to tie the game at 2-2 apiece. With no winner found during the rest of the period, the game went to overtime.
The Bruins dominated the extra period from the off, earning a power-play which gave them a momentum the Rangers simply could not drag back. Though Lundqvist made 15 saves during OT to stave off wave after wave, the Boston winner eventually arrived on a 2-on-1 breakaway. After Brad Marchand had fed Patrice Bergeron on the rush, the centre fed a perfect pass back to the agitating forward in front of goal and he poked the puck beneath the Rangers goaltender to an explosion of noise within the arena. The Bruins led the series 1-0.
The opening two periods of Game Two followed in a similar vein to the first contest, but once more the Bruins were able to raise the intensity of their play to a level the Rangers were unable to match. Boston again opened the scoring. After a superb defensive play in their end to deny Brian Boyle, David Krejci again picked the right pass. Finding first game revelation Torey Krug, who continued the dream start to his career by sending a wrister through Henrik Lundqvist, his second goal in two NHL games. With twelve minutes left in the first, the Rangers equalised. Ryan Callahan blocking a Brad Marchand pass at the point before streaking away into a one on one with Tukka Rask. The Rangers Captain deked the goaltender out of his pads before sliding into an empty net.
The teams again exchanged plenty of chances in the second, producing three goals. First Gregory Campbell slammed a rebound high past Lundqvist from the slot after a Torey Krug shot had been blocked out in front, the youngster showing great skill to move the puck from skate to stick before a quick release. Then a minute later, Rick Nash burst past Zdeno Chara with a sublime dangle before switching from backhand to forehand to fire the puck past Rask. The Bruins then re-established their lead during a 4-on-4, Brad Marchand gaining the offensive zone and passing to Johnny Boychuk, who pinged a powerful shot into the top left-hand corner of the net.
The final period was a crushing one for New York, who seemed powerless to stop the yellow and black tidal wave moving in their direction. Boston added two more goals to seal the victory. In a replica of the OT winner from Game One, Patrice Bergeron dished a pass to Brad Marchand in front of the net, who finished clinically to make it 4-2. Milan Lucic then stuffed home the puck after David Krejci had been denied by Lundqvist to put the edible letters on the icing on the cake. The series headed back to the Big Apple with the Bruins in command at 2-0.
The Bruins controlled the third instalment in the series, despite being behind for a huge part of it. When it came to crunch time, they received crucial production from their fourth line, which helped place the offensively ineffective Rangers in a gigantic series hole.
Only the outstanding performance of Henrik Lundqvist kept the Bruins at bay throughout the first, stoning both Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin from point-blank range after breakaways and making an exceptional stop on Dougie Hamilton’s screened effort. Using their goaltender’s play as a springboard, the Rangers then took a lead early in the second. Taylor Pyatt tipping in Ryan McDonagh’s shot between Tukka Rask’s legs to lift the home crowd onto their feet.
The Bruins responded by continuing to pin New York in their own zone for the rest of the second, just unable to find the leveller. During a tense third, after a superb offensive cycle from their fourth line, keeping the play alive with active sticks, Johnny Boychuk fired a shot which flicked off a body in front and found the top right corner of Lundqvist’s goal. The damage was compounded when with three minutes left in the period; the same unit got the game-winner. A shot from the point hitting Gregory Campbell and looping freakishly over Lundqvist onto the goal line before bouncing out. Reacting quickest from behind the net, Daniel Paille swept the loose puck home before any of the defence could reach him. The 2-1 lead was enough for the win, giving the Bruins a 3-0 lead in the series and a chance at a sweep in Game Four.
Ahead of Game Four, John Tortorella made some drastic changes to his line-up, scratching veteran Brad Richards and Aaron Asham. Inserting the physical pairing of Kris Newbury and Michael Haley onto the fourth line with Derek Dorsett, the additions also meant Chris Krieder moved up to the second line to play with Rick Nash. Though the Rangers were again outplayed and out-shot 40-32, the changes had an effect and they just managed to stave off elimination in overtime.
Boston were again quickest out of the blocks in an open start to the game, the Bruins going in for the series kill and the Rangers fighting for their postseason lives. It took until 5 minutes into the second period to break the deadlock, Nathan Horton making it 1-0 on a power-play opportunity. After trying to feed a pass through the slot, the puck rebounded straight onto his stick and he made no mistake in sliding it short-side past Lundqvist. Three minutes later the Bruins had doubled their lead, again on the power-play. After the puck was shot in behind the net Tyler Seguin took possession and found Torey Krug at the point. The youngster continued the unbelievable start to his NHL career by hammering a one-timer over Lundqvist, his third goal in four playoff games.
The Rangers could easily have capitulated and called it a day, starting to pick out their golf venues for the summer. Instead, they pushed forward and got a stroke of luck. Derick Brassard flicked the puck between the Boston defence and latching onto it, the speedy Carl Hagelin sent the tamest of efforts towards goal. The puck took an age to slide past a despairing Tukka Rask, who had lost an edge in net, and it was 2-1.
Early in the third, New York levelled it. Derek Stepan taking swift advantage of confusion between Rask and his defence, wrapping the puck around into the gaping goal. With the Toronto series still haunting them, the Bruins seemed spurred on by the comeback and just as a power-play expired, they grabbed the lead again. A neat passing play between Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton resulted in the latter tucking home the puck at the second attempt, his first goal of a frustrating postseason. Most in the arena thought the series was done and dusted, and certainly most weren’t holding out much hope when New York got a power-play with ten minutes remaining, but the Rangers shocked everyone. Derek Stepan rushing to the outside and feeding Brian Boyle in the slot, somehow unmarked in a crowd of Bruins players. The centre fired an unstoppable shot past Rask to level it at 3-3.
Seven minutes into the extra period, Rick Nash and Chris Kreider combined for the game-winner. Nash angled a sublime pass between the back-tracking defence, which Kreider expertly deflected over Rask. Though Madison Square Garden erupted in euphoria, there was a sense of the size of the task that still lay head, trailing 3-1 to the Bruins heading back to Beantown.
Though the Rangers took the lead in Game Five, they never looked capable of getting the win they needed, particularly with a determined Bruins team looking to bury the series once and for all.
Possibly against the run of play, the Rangers opened the scoring on the man advantage during the first period, their special teams finally beginning to find some consistency. After controlling a pass from Mats Zuccarello, Dan Girardi blasted a shot through the bodies crowding the front of goal and found the back of the net.
The Bruins equalised in similar fashion during the second, their power-play now a potent force. Brad Marchand carried the puck into the zone, before pivoting and finding Tyler Seguin. The forward’s perfectly weighted pass then set up a shot for, you guessed it, 22-year old Torey Krug, his blast flying past Lundqvist’s glove to even the score.
After laying siege to the Rangers net for the rest of the period, Lundqvist frantically trying to keep them out, Boston’s trusty fourth line stepped up to get the game-winner. Daniel Paille intercepting two errant passes from New York in the neutral zone before trying to drop a pass across to Shawn Thornton, who was boxed out by the Rangers defence. However, following up on the play was Gregory Campbell, who quickly switched from his backhand to forehand and beat ‘the King’ over his right shoulder. New York were simply unable to threaten the Bruins in the third period, though Rask made two important stops, and Campbell added an empty-netter with seconds remaining to seal a 3-1 victory.
Pivotal Series Moment:
Whilst watching this series unravel, the result of the very first meeting felt huge in terms of the psychology of both teams. Though the Bruins had dominated throughout the overtime period, the Rangers goal seemed to be living a charmed life, Lundqvist making several ridiculous saves and the post being struck twice. Indeed, there was nervousness in the crowd that suggested a fear of it just not being Boston’s day. In addition, New York had already entered the series in a superior mental state than Boston, having rebounded twice against Washington to advance and perhaps if they had just found a way to ride out the early storm, the outcome of the whole series could have been different. Though such a theory is pure speculation, Boston would have been devastated to lose the contest at home, especially after their abject display against Toronto, and the Rangers would have headed back to Madison Square Garden at worst, level at 1-1.
Instead, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron delivered a killer blow; it is dramatic moments such as these which define not only the outcome of a series, but perhaps whether or not a team grasp Sir Stanley’s Cup come June.
Keys to the Series:
– Torey Krug. It seems strange to be talking about a player most Bruins fans had barely heard of before the series began but the youngster was a success in every sense of the word. After veteran defencemen Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden were all ruled out with injuries, the Bruins needed the rookie to step up and with four goals in his first five playoff games; I think it’s fair to say that he did. Looking solid on the defensive side, he managed to revitalise a dire Boston power-play with his vicious shot and instinctive passing. Though they were only 4-for-12 on the man advantage, that is still a vast improvement from the 3-for-20 record they posted during the Toronto series, and two of Krug’s efforts were game-tying strikes.
– Tukka Rask. Though only posting a 2.05 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage, the Bruins goaltender was great when he needed to be. Especially after he had made mistakes, he did a remarkable job of remaining calm and visibly unruffled, giving his team the confidence to play their game without worrying about events in their own end.
– Fourth lines. Whilst John Tortorella did everything he could to squeeze some production from his fourth line, Claude Julien’s own depth players were his very best performers throughout the series. The line of Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton combined for four goals against the Rangers, including the game-winners in Games Three and Five.
– Goals from everywhere. The Bruins had nine different goal-scorers, including seven from the blue-line. The Rangers also had nine different goal-scorers, but no-one scored more than Derek Stepan’s two and this was the same number New York received from their d-men. This superior offensive strength up and down the roster, was a vital facet of Boston’s triumph.
-Claude Julien. Most coaches would have panicked when faced with a defensive crisis right before a semi-final encounter. Julien simply brought Torey Krug in and let him play his game, ensuring that both their rookie d-men were more often than not, on the ice with an experienced player. That being said, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug also formed a scintillating partnership on the man advantage, the freedom in their play wonderful to see. Julien also stuck to his rolling four line system, which proved highly effective in creating advantageous match-ups in the offensive zone.
– Shot-blocking. Though John Tortorella has always favoured a system in which all of his players are expected to stand or lay in shooting lanes, I felt such tactics were to his team’s detriment during this series. While such defensive play would be encouraged with an average goaltender in net, the New York Rangers don’t have an average goalie, they have a world-class one. With this in mind, some of the most important goals conceded were a result of defencemen screening or the puck deflecting off an attempted block to beat Henrik Lundqvist, goals that could so easily have been simple saves.