'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins have a lot in common heading into their second-round matchup. Both are coming off inspiring Game 7 victories, have outstanding goalies between the pipes, need some of their top offensive guns to start producing and are dealing with significant injuries.
It's obvious that this series is going to be won with fire rather than skill. This series is going to be won in the corners and the dirty areas of the ice. It will be a grind-it-out kind of series that will have John Tortorella's men licking their chops.
In most cases, I'd give a fully-healthy Bruins the edge -- but that isn't the case. They're contending with a number of worrisome injuries to key defensemen and must get production from beneath their top line.
BRUINS BANGED UP ON THE BLUE LINE
The question being asked by some within the Boston media is, "Was their first-round series with the Leafs too taxing?"
Not only was it a physically-grueling series, but it was also came at a cost. Andrew Ference missed Game 7 against Toronto and entered the Bruins' locker room on crutches. Meanwhile, Dennis Seidenberg is suffering from a lower-body injury and was only able to take part in two shifts in Game 7.
It would be a massive blow to the Bruins' chances of advancing in round two if either is to miss significant time. Seidenberg typically plays 24-29 minutes a game and Ference usually logs 21-24 minutes per game. In addition, Wade Redden's status is unclear, as he was scratched for Games 5 and 7 due to an undisclosed injury. All three did not practice for the Bruins on Wednesday.
There's a massive difference in having experienced, stabilizing pros in Ference, Seidenberg and Redden playing in front of Tuukka Rask, compared to raw blue-liners in Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug. Although it should be pointed out that both Hamilton and Krug possess a great deal of upside.
NASH'S TIME TO SHINE?
Whether it's an injury, his mentality or a combination of both, Rick Nash did not look like himself in round one against the Caps. Zero goals and two assists isn't the sort of production that Rangers fans were expecting from Nash against Washington.
For most of the series, Nash did not have his leg churning, and that could be due to an incident when his right knee crashed into the boards in Game 3 after missing a check on Capitals defenseman Mike Green.
While Nash didn't score in Game 7, he did look a lot more lively. He's also had a good amount of time to heal since Monday. I'm confident that we'll see the real Nash show up against the Bruins.
Expect Zdeno Chara to constantly make Nash's life difficult. For my money, Chara is still the best shut-down defenseman in the NHL. If Ference is missing from the Bruins' lineup, there will be areas on the ice for Nash and his linemates to exploit.
BRUINS MUST GET MORE PRODUCTION FROM SECOND LINE
The Bruins relied far too heavily on the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line against the Leafs, and it's vital that their second line gets going. Patrice Bergeron scored when it mattered most by notching a memorable Game 7 overtime goal. Bergeron, an exceptionally gifted, two-way centerman isn't the problem. His linemates are the ones who are really struggling.
Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand were unable to score a goal in seven games against the Leafs. Look further down to the third line and you'll see that power-play specialist Jaromir Jagr also failed to score a goal in the opening round.
RANGERS HAVE THEIR OWN ISSUES: CLOWE AND POWE DAY TO DAY, STAAL'S STATUS LESS CLEAR
Darroll Powe is listed as day to day with an upper-body injury. I'd imagine he'll suit up in the early portion of the series. A healthy Powe would come in handy, as he's proven himself as an adept penalty-killer since being acquired from Minnesota in early February.
Ryane Clowe missed the final two games of New York's first-round series against Washington. While the Rangers haven't listed an official reason for Clowe's absence from the lineup, it is widely believed that Clowe suffered a concussion on April 25 when he took an elbow from Bobby Sanguinetti of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Should Clowe be given the green light for round two, he'll be a difference-maker with his ability to throw tremendous checks and excel at dirty work along the boards.
Meanwhile, Marc Staal doesn't appear to be any closer to returning. I wouldn't be surprised if Staal misses the entire series against Boston, as his vision issue is very delicate.
All three were held out of Wednesday's practice. Out of the three, Powe appears closest to returning to the Rangers' lineup.
RANGERS WILL GRIND IT OUT AND WIN IN 6 GAMES
The Rangers will win this series the hard way. They led the league with 161 blocked shots and will throw their bodies in front of speeding pucks with wreckless abandon. They'll play sound hockey in their own end and attempt to frustrate the Bruins by getting under their skin.
Look, this team was able to lock down Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for the majority of the opening round. The Rangers held the Caps' star duo to a combined five points in seven games in round one.
Boston appears to be too banged up to stay with the Rangers in this series. If the Bruins are without a number of key defenseman there will be mismatches that the Rangers can take advantage of.
Can a team reach the Eastern Conference Finals without a dependable power play? Time will tell. With or without an improved power play, the Rangers will ride Henrik Lundqvist into the Eastern Conference Finals. I have the Blueshirts taking this series in six games.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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