The Boston Bruins meet the New York Rangers with an Eastern Conference Finals berth on the line. This certainly will not be a clash of styles, as the two teams love to play physical hockey, and have suffered through spurts of poor shooting luck despite great possession numbers.
New York Rangers close-game Fenwick: 53.9% (Rank: 7th in NHL)
Boston Bruins close-game Fenwick: 54.4% (Rank: 4th in NHL)
Total: Boston Bruins, 0.5%
Both of these teams were similarly elite at even strength in the regular season, despite not scoring as many goals as either John Tortorella or Claude Julien would have liked. That led each side to make offensive moves at the deadline, with the Bruins adding Jaromir Jagr and the Rangers revamping their team by trading Marian Gaborik for a package including Derick Brassard, who was phenomenal in round one. The Rangers were the better close-game Fenwick team post-deadline after their overhaul, while the Bruins went in the opposite direction.
Rangers offense vs. Bruins defense
New York Rangers offense: -1.4 GVT (Rank: 16th in NHL)
Boston Bruins defense: 7.0 GVT (Rank: 8th in NHL)
Boston Bruins goaltending: 14.8 GVT (Rank: 2nd in NHL)
Total: New York Rangers, -23.2 GVT
The Rangers suffered from poor shooting luck all season, notching a 7.6% even strength shooting percentage (seventh worst in the NHL). The trade of Gaborik was key for this club, as they restored the depth that they had lost when they dealt for Rick Nash. That, combined with evening out of the percentages, helped the Rangers improve their per-game scoring post-deadline by more than a full goal. In other words, they are not as poor as their GVT might indicate. Still, Nash, Ryan Callahan, and Brad Richards had just two goals combined vs. Washington. The former two had good possession numbers, and are a decent bet for a rebound, but Richards might have to find his game if the Rangers are to take the next step.
The Blueshirts face a formidable test in the form of the Bruins, who have been defensively stellar all season long. Their defensive corps is built for this type of matchup against a similarly physical team, if Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference are healthy. Their absence might place more pressure on Tuukka Rask, who ranked fourth in the league in even strength save percentage among goalies who had 20 or more starts.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
Bruins offense vs. Rangers defense
Boston Bruins offense: -0.4 GVT (Rank: 14th in NHL)
New York Rangers defense: 9.0 GVT (Rank: 5th in NHL)
New York Rangers goaltending: 12.5 GVT (Rank: 3rd in NHL)
Total: Boston Bruins, -21.9 GVT
The most intriguing thing about this series is just how alike these two teams are. Where the Rangers have a struggling Nash and Richards, the Bruins have a struggling Tyler Seguin. Like Richards, Seguin has been demoted to a lower line of late. He suffered through a painful 2.6% on-ice shooting percentage in round one despite a staggering possession advantage against the Maple Leafs. On the opposite end of the spectrum lie Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci, who broke out in round one, but had on-ice shooting percentages above 16.0. Therefore, expect Seguin to rebound a bit, with the Krejci trio coming down to earth.
More troubling for Boston is that they cannot expect to have as easy of a time generating shots against the Rangers as they did against Toronto. The Leafs were a gift of a matchup in the first round. The game will tighten up considerably against a Rangers team that is elite possession-wise, with a defense that blocks shots at an elite level. Much like the Bruins, the Rangers have to be concerned about a defensive injury that hurts their depth (Marc Staal). They rely heavily on Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to play the tough minutes in Staal's absence, and the pair will have to make sure they do not break down over what figures to be a long series.
Like Rask for Boston, Henrik Lundqvist's presence makes the difference for New York. He posted two consecutive shutouts to close the door on the Capitals, and was the fifth-best even strength goaltender in the league over the regular season. Goals figure to be at a premium in this series despite the defensive injuries on either side.
Advantage: New York Rangers
Rangers power play vs. Bruins penalty kill
New York Rangers power play: -4.9 GVT (Rank: 25th in NHL)
Boston Bruins penalty kill: 10.5 GVT (Rank: 1st in NHL)
Total: New York Rangers, -15.4 GVT
The Rangers power play was subject to much criticism in the first round after working at a 7.1% clip. Only Minnesota was worse. The Blueshirts only had two power play goals over the seven-game series, with one coming from defensively-minded Dan Girardi. There are two schools of thought to this phenomenon: either the numbers will even out, and New York's regular season power play leaders such as Nash, Callahan, and Derek Stepan will score in this series, or they figure to have an even more difficult time against the elite Bruins penalty kill, which ranked first in GVT and fourth in percentage at 87.1% over the regular season. Between Rask, Zdeno Chara, and Patrice Bergeron, I favor the latter theory. The Rangers need their power play to improve, but expecting improvement strong enough to gain a discernible advantage in the series might be asking too much.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
Bruins power play vs. Rangers penalty kill
Boston Bruins power play: -3.9 GVT (Rank: 20th in NHL)
New York Rangers penalty kill: 1.1 GVT (Rank: 15th in NHL)
Total: Boston Bruins, -5.0 GVT
The Bruins might see their best chance to win this series come on the power play. New York relies heavily on Girardi and McDonagh, and shorthanded play is no exception. Without Staal, the two figure to play upwards of 23-25 minutes per game, particularly if spurts of physicality (and dumb penalties) lead to power play chances. Whereas the Bruins are an elite penalty killing team, the Rangers are decidedly average, and losing Staal exacerbates that fact. Boston was an average power play team themselves in the regular season, but the offensive talent on this team is unquestioned. They have a stronger chance to gain an edge with their power play than the Rangers do with theirs.
Season series results
These two teams played three times in the regular season, but none of the matchups occurred after February 12th. Comparing those Rangers to these Rangers is an exercise in futility, as is analyzing the season series between these clubs. For the record, the Rangers won two of the three, but one was in overtime and one was in a shootout. Curiously, the overtime winner was by Gaborik, who is not with the club anymore.
New York Rangers faceoff percentage: 50.0% (Rank: 16th in NHL)
Boston Bruins faceoff percentage: 56.4% (Rank: 1st in NHL)
Total: Boston Bruins, 6.4%
Faceoffs yield a strong advantage for the Bruins, who ranked first in the league in that category. Four of Boston's top five faceoff takers ranked over 55.0%, led by Patrice Bergeron's NHL-leading 62.1% mark among qualifying skaters which beat out runner-up Jonathan Toews by over two percent. Meanwhile, the Rangers are an average faceoff team, hampered by Derek Stepan, who has taken over 200 more faceoffs than anyone else on this club, despite winning just 45.8% of them.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
Injuries and Intangibles
Each team has several defensive injuries that will test their corps, particularly if the series goes seven games. Staal's absence figures to have the most impact. The series could depend on McDonagh and Girardi's ability to play tough minutes against a physical Bruins team, as well as the ability of secondary defensemen John Moore, Steve Eminger, Michael Del Zotto, and Anton Stralman to play well against Boston's deep scoring lines. Ryane Clowe's concussion is naturally a volatile injury to predict, but his presence would help combat Boston's physicality, should he return.
For the Bruins, Seidenberg could be a critical absence, but do not overlook Ference's and Wade Redden's knocks. Young players such as Dougie Hamilton and former Ohio State Buckeye Matt Bartkowski could be thrust into important roles for the Bruins. And much like McDonagh and Girardi, Chara will be counted on immensely.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
New York Rangers: 18.0 GVT (Rank: 7th in NHL)
Boston Bruins: 22.0 GVT (Rank: 4th in NHL)
Total: Boston Bruins, 4.0 GVT
The numbers and profiles are incredibly close. Still, this is a different Rangers team than the one on display for most of the regular season, making those numbers a bit misleading. While trading for Nash exposed New York's secondary lines, their moves at the deadline helped to regain depth, shaping the club into more like the one that advanced to the Eastern Conference Final in 2012. The series might come down to which team's power play steps up the most.
In the end, I favor Lundqvist as the difference maker. I do not expect Nash to shoot 0-for-22 in this series, as he did against Washington. I am also a bit worried by Boston being taken to seven games by a far inferior Toronto team despite dominating possession as much as they did. The Rangers can play as physically as the Leafs, with better goaltending, more reliable scoring options, and far better even strength play. The Leafs exposed Boston's defense, even with the possession disadvantage.
Lundqvist was able to singlehandedly win games for the Rangers in the first round, who know they can improve, and I expect them to. Boston saw a surge from some of their slumping players against Toronto, and it still took them seven. New York can and should expect significant contributions from Callahan, Nash, Stepan, and Richards. Call it a hunch, but this Rangers squad, backed by Lundqvist, and the resurgence of their top players, takes this series.
New York Rangers in seven games