Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
Rangers Roll; B’s Knees?
While the New York Rangers were busy blowing out the Washington Capitals 5-0 last night, the Boston Bruins completed an NHL-history-making comeback: Trailing Toronto 4-1 with 14:31 remaining in the third period, Boston scored three goals – including two in the final 1:22, after pulling goalie Tuukka Rask – to send the game to overtime, then delivered the coup de grace just 6:05 into the extra frame. Now, the Rangers and Bruins face off in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. How will that play out? Here’s my two cents:
Going into this series, the biggest question mark has to be the Bruins’ blueline. With Andrew Ference on crutches and Dennis Seidenberg leaving last night’s game with a mysterious lower-body injury after just 37 seconds of ice time, Boston is now facing a serious problem. In Games Six and Seven, New York coach John Tortorella utilized new line combinations: Hagelin-Stepan-Callahan, Zuccarello-Brassard-Nash, Pyatt-Boyle-Dorsett and Kreider-Richards-Asham. In the deciding game of the Rangers-Caps series, scoring came from all four lines. The Bruins’ depleted d-corps will have their hands full…and if Rick Nash breaks out, only a superhuman effort from Tuukka Rask will keep Boston in this series.
Beyond the blueline, the Bruins got past Toronto with just one line (Lucic-Krejci-Horton) firing on all cylinders. That line tallied 11 goals and 18 assists, while all other B’s forwards combined produced just 5 goals and 11 helpers. It’s a given that New York will put their top blueline tandem of Girardi and McDonagh up against Boston’s KHL line, so the Bruins will need much more from the likes of Jagr, Marchand, Bergeron and Seguin.
In addition to the above, two key matchups will be the Rangers’ putrid power play (7.1%) against the Bruins’ sub-par penalty kill (76.2%) and, even more important than special teams, the Battle of the Faceoff Circle: Boston leads all playoff teams, winning 60.0% of their draws against Toronto, while the Rangers are struggling a bit at 49.2%. If Boston can shore up their blueline and the Rangers can shut down the Bruins’ top line, this series will be decided at the faceoff dot.
Boston has two wild cards: Jagr’s Butt and Wade Redden’s Revenge. When Jaromir Jagr is firing on all cylinders, he’s still one of the best puck possession forwards in the game, utilizing his gluteus to the maximus to shield the puck from defenders and keep an offensive zone cycle going, which leads to tired defensemen and scoring chances. Will Wade Redden exact revenge on the club that buried him in the minors for two long seasons? Undoubtedly, his motivation factor will be high for this series. Expect Redden to do what he didn’t do nearly enough to keep him in New York: shoot the puck.
New York’s wild cards are Rick Nash and the Fourth Line (great name for a band, no?). Nash is not playing poorly, but he’s definitely been snakebit thus far in the playoffs. If he can score early in this series and rediscover his mojo, look out. The new fourth line of Kreider-Richards-Asham was particularly impressive in Game Seven, with Kreider’s drop pass to Asham setting up the Rangers’ first goal (the eventual game-winner). Aaron Asham scored two goals in the series against Washington, and continued success for the Blueshirts’ fourth line would be very bad news for the B’s.
Prediction: The Bruins feed off their history-making Game Seven win over Toronto to take Game One against New York, but the Rangers’ four lines will overwhelm Boston’s undermanned blueline. New York in six.