This was supposed to be the Henrik Lundqvist triumphant return to the New York Rangers. Ranger fans were ready for glory, but they forgot one major detail: They were playing the Boston Bruins. Can you say problem?
On the surface, few would see this coming. Boston is struggling for their playoff lives right now and arguably the best team in the league was coming into town. Granted there were some score effects as the Rangers would get back into this one a bit. The frustrating reality for Boston is that they can play against certain teams really well still. There are too many teams where they cannot and there lies the problem.
When you look at simple math, it still appears that Boston will sneak into the playoffs. That is provided they can stay healthy of course. Nothing is guaranteed but strategically one thing remains clear.
If you are Boston….you want to play the New York Rangers.
Why The Rangers?
This is really simple and jokingly this can be explained in one sentence but more points are needed here. However, here are a few bullet points that will eventually be used as bulletin board material by someone.
Boston is in Lundqvist’s head.
It is just a fact. When you look at the games Lundqvist has been in, for the most part the Bruins do seem to have a way of getting to the goalie. The previous meetings for the most part indicate a general pattern where the Bruins find ways to get to the net and they often change their shot selection. This forces Lundqvist to change positioning often, causing him to play deeper and deeper in his crease.
When you can force Lundqvist deep into his crease then the screens start. Getting near the crease and using that physical game around him starts to infuriate the netminder. Then the pace starts to turn as Boston can work New York over and over and over. Later in games, it results in the Rangers playing catch up which leads to even more chances. There is no secret that Boston understands you have to get up on New York early. They do this really well.
Playing downhill is absolutely vital when going up against the Rangers. They are a dangerous team as everyone knows but Lundqvist as great as he is can still visibly get down on himself. Boston seems to notice more than other teams. There is no rational reason for this but they just do.
When you can get into the head of a goalie, plays often open up that were not there normally. It has been seen so many times in hockey but especially during the playoffs in best of seven series. Familiarity breeds success for Boston unless it is Montreal. It is weird to think how just some teams match up better with others.
Oh there is a reason for that too ladies and gentlemen.
Boston Makes The Rangers Play Their Pace
Boston plays dirty in the high danger scoring areas. If they don’t give up chances off the rush, the Rangers will not beat them. It is that simple.
Too many times, most Rangers-Bruins games turn into a case where the area near the Boston goalie turns into a no skate zone for the Rangers. It does not help that even Lundqvist and the rest of the Rangers get drawn into this. Almost from the opening draw, Boston asserts its physicality and New York team doesn’t really answer. They just continue to play their style, which draws right into the hands of the Bruins.
The one thing the Rangers have to do is find ways to stretch the ice. That will allow Lundqvist crucial breathers. However, Boston with or without the line change just plays a complete game the majority of the time. Against other teams, the Boston (read: Claude Julien) style does not work. However, constricting the ice space seems to not only hurt the Rangers and Lundqvist but also limits the amount of penalties Boston commits.
It is a funny thing how it works but the one team Boston would really like to see in Round 1 would be the Rangers. There are a couple more weeks to go but if it does happen, I like Boston’s chances because of their Saturday surprise.