Rangers fans could be forgiven to be pessimistic. The franchise has won only one Cup in the past 72 seasons, and has missed the playoffs 13 times in the past 40 years. They have a losing record in the playoffs – wins/losses – against each of the other original six teams, and didn’t secure a playoff spot until the second to last game of the season.
In the first round, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards, the four offensive leaders during the regular season, accounted for just 3 of the Rangers’ 15 goals, with Nash and Richards only getting one of those three.
Then there’s their performance on the road. During the regular season they went 10-12-2, only good enough for 11th in the East, although they’re one of four teams remaining in the playoffs with losing road records. In the playoffs they scored just 2 goals in the first 3 road games, going 0-3 before their final 5-0 route of the Capitals.
But the Rangers have some things going for them.
After a seven season drought, the Rangers have qualified for the playoffs for 6 of the 7 seasons since the lockout, and the only time they missed came down to a shootout loss in the final game of the season. They have made the second round in consecutive years for the first time since the 1996 and 1997 playoffs.
They’ve also made it to the Eastern Conference finals last year for the first time since 1997, and have a chance to make it to consecutive appearances in the conference final for the first time since they moved to the conference format back in 1974.
Also to be celebrated is the new found scoring depth, with 11 players registering goals in the first round, and three different players recording game winners. If it goes to Game 7, the Rangers certainly have the experience there now, with a 51-6 record for the playing roster, including three Game 7 winning team performances in the last two seasons.
They remained disciplined against the potent Capitals power play, giving up just 16 power plays while earning 28 themselves. Certainly the Power Play has underperformed, and the Penalty Kill has not been as strong as it has been in last year, and will certainly be areas of interest going forward.
The fact that neither of the special teams have performed particularly well, just shows how well the Rangers played 5 on 5.
A large part of that is of course the performance of Henrik Lunqvist, who hasn’t given up a goal in 120 minutes of play, and took the Capitals into OT twice during the previous series. Lundqvist also got a timely nod for the Vezina during the series, and backed that up with shutouts in Game 6 and 7 for just the fourth time in NHL history, and first time since Dominik Hasek did it in 2002.
The Rangers also overcame injuries to Marc Staal, Ryane Clowe and Darroll Powe, who all made cameos in the series, but were adequately replaced by Steve Eminger and Chris Kreider, as well as returns of the injured Derek Dorsett and Brian Boyle.
While Boston has dominated plenty of teams in recent years, the Rangers are not one of them. Lundqvist is 21-7 lifetime against the Bruins, with a .944 save percentage and 1.68 GAA, including six shutouts – one of them a 1-0 shootout loss. With Lundqvist sitting just one behind Mike Richter for Rangers career leader, there’s a good chance he could tie #35 in this series.
Derek Stepan‘s also one to watch. With two game winners against the Capitals, he also has two career game winners in eleven regular season games against the Bruins, and is proving to be a big game player. Fellow center, Derick Brassard has also embraced the playoffs, and is third in the league with nine points – 2 goals, 7 assists.
Perhaps most importantly, the Rangers finally seem to be finding their groove after an up and down season. They still play games close – five of the seven games against the Caps were decided by one goal – but they have shown some resiliency, being able to come back from an 0-2 series deficit, as well as winning at the Verizon center despite a 1-10 record in the previous 11 games.
By contrast the Bruins have appeared anything but consistent, finishing the regular season 2-5-2 and almost giving up a 3-1 series advantage against Toronto, needing a big comeback from a 4-1 third period deficit to win it 5-4 in OT…the biggest comeback in playoff history for a Game 7.
They’re missing three blueliners in Denis Seidenberg, who played over 21 minutes a game, hard hitting Andrew Ference who averaged over 22 minutes, and veteran defender, and former Ranger, Wade Redden, who was being used more as a third-pair defender.
The Bruins special teams hasn’t been much better than the Rangers either, allowing 5 goals versus the 3 New York gave up on the PK, and scoring just one more PP goal, albeit on 8 fewer chances.
In net Tukka Rask let in 18 goals in the seven game series versus Toronto – Lundqvist allowed 12, and only 2 in the last 3 games – including 3 or 4 goals in three of the games. His record was much better on the road, where he stopped 114 of 121 for a save percentage of .942 whereas he was a less impressive 98 of 109 for a .899 save percentage. Twice he allowed four goals against at TD Garden.
On the road, the Bruins 114 shots on goal in the three games, including 45 shots on two occasions in Games 3 & 4.
The Bruins are no easy beats, but as Glen Sather said there’s reason to be comfortable with where this team is at, and what they might do in this round.