NHL Boston BruinsNew York Rangers

New York Rangers-Boston Bruins 2013 NHL Playoffs Series Preview

New York Rangers - Boston Bruins

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Let the bitterness and hatred begin.

While there may be mutual respect between the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers players and fans, don’t be fooled by the gentlemen-like hockey mentality. This Eastern Conference semifinal series will be a fierce, intense, and grueling battle.

Members of the Original Six, the Rangers and the Bruins have not squared off against one another in the Stanley Cup playoffs since 1973 (Rangers won the series 4-1). During that 40-year span, fans have been treated to a multitude of classic games between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, New England Patriots and New York Giants, and Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

Now it’s time for the Bruins and Rangers to add to the Boston-New York rivalry.

The Bruins and Rangers are two of the more like-minded teams that you will find in the NHL. Both teams play similar styles featuring strong, physical, defensive-minded play that relies on their above-average goaltenders. Offensively, both teams will attempt to make their marks in front of the net with their respective size and strength and look to score the “dirty” goals off rebounds and deflections, inadvertent or not.

In the three matchups this season between the Rangers and Bruins, the Rangers came out on top, winning two of the three games. However, each game was decided by two goals or fewer, and each of the Rangers’ victories came after regulation.

With these things in mind, there are three keys that could make or break the series for both of these teams.

The first and foremost is goaltending. For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, is their best player and most certainly was the key reason why they took down the Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round.  He put on an all-world performance in that series, including in the final two Rangers’ victories when he stopped 27 and 35 shots respectively in shutouts in Game 6 and Game 7.  In addition, he has enjoyed success against the Bruins in his career, posting a 21-7-2 record along with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. This season, he was 2-1-0 with a 2.93 GAA and a .913 save percentage against the Bruins. While Tuukka Rask was solid in goal for the Bruins this season, he did give up 18 goals in seven games against the Toronto Maple Leafs compared with the 12 Lundqvist allowed against the Caps, giving the Rangers a distinct edge in goal.

The second key is offensive production. The Rangers and the Bruins both have struggled mightily on the power play this year, finishing 23rd and 26th in the NHL respectively in power play percentage. Rangers superstar forward Rick Nash captain Ryan Callahan each managed merely one point against the Caps while Derick Brassard was a difference-maker with nine points, including seven assists. Meanwhile, the Bruins’ key offensive players came up huge against the Leafs as David Krejci had five goals and 13 points to lead all NHL players through the first round. Patrice Bergeron scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in the Bruins’ miraculous comeback win in Game 7 while Milan Lucic, who struggled tremendously during the regular season, was an agitating presence around the net throughout the Toronto series and finished with nine points.

The third and final key is managing the injury bug. Both teams might be without key defensive figures when the series begins. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal‘s comeback attempt from an eye injury ended after playing only one game in the first round, and he is not expected to return to the lineup anytime soon. Forward Ryane Clowe, a key trade deadline acquisition for the Rangers up front, was limited to two games because of an apparent concussion. The Rangers then will have to continue to get production from forward Arron Asham and defenseman Steve Eminger, who were both unexpected surprises against the Caps. The Bruins appear thin on the defensive line, as they were without Andrew Ference for the past two games and then lost Dennis Seidenberg early in Game 7 after a collision with Leafs forward Matt Frattin. That means they will have to rely more on rookie d-men Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton.

The New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins are two rivals that have played each other tough and have similar playing styles and issues to combat. For those reasons, there is every reason to expect that these teams will again go the full seven games to decide a victor.