WILMINGTON, Mass. — The New York Rangers have yet to face the Bruins this season, but when the Original Six rivals clash in the first of four meetings on Saturday, the Bruins should be very familiar with the Rangers' approach.
After all, it's largely a mirror of their own.
"There's similarities between our teams for sure," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "That's just going to make it more of a battle. We have to be prepared for that."
The NHL has always been a copycat league, and Stanley Cup champions often provide a blueprint for other teams to try to copy.
That hasn't been as prevalent as usual this year after the Bruins won hockey's greatest prize by playing an aggressive, old-school game in an era when physical play has been marginalized in the NHL. But at least one team took note of Boston's successful model, with the Rangers putting together many of the same elements that have driven the Bruins' success.
A dominant duo in net? Check. The Rangers' tandem of Henrik Lundqvist (20-10-4, 1.93 GAA, .936 save percentage) and Martin Biron (9-2-0, 1.88 GAA, .927 save percentage) stack up pretty close to the Bruins' 1-2 punch of Tim Thomas (19-9-0, 2.02 GAA, .936 save percentage) and Tuukka Rask (11-4-1, 1.61 GAA, .946 save percentage).
"He's always been a good goaltender," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Lundqvist, who will join Thomas in Ottawa next week for the All-Star Game. "He's helped them win some hockey games. We've had a number of challenges against him at scoring goals, so that's another reason why it should be an interesting game. We've got some great goaltending at both ends and teams that are very alike."
An experienced man behind the bench with a proven system? Check. Just as the Bruins have thrived under Julien's watch, Rangers coach John Tortorella has proven adept at pushing all the right buttons in Gotham.
"John's a good coach," Julien said. "He won a Cup with Tampa Bay and what he's doing with this team this year is just in his image. They play hard. He can be hard on his players from what I'm told, but he always respects his players and his players respect his intensity. There's a mutual respect between the players and coaches, and that's what you need."
Depth up front? Check. Like the Bruins, the Rangers roll four lines and have a balanced defense corps. That depth allows New York to play a physical game, wearing down opponents in a manner that should be familiar to Bruins fans who have watched Boston do that so often.
"To me, when you can play four lines, that's a solid team," Bruins forward Daniel Paille said. "We both have the luxury of doing that right now. It's going to be exciting because it seems like they play all four lines a lot, just as much as us, so it should be an exciting one."
And ample toughness, featuring tough guys who can take a regular shift and truly impact the game? Check. The Rangers are one of the few teams that can rival the Bruins in this department.
New York is actually first in the league with 35 fighting majors, just ahead of Boston's 32. And like the Bruins, who have abundant toughness on their top units with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, along with role players capable of contributing far more than the average fourth-liner like Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell, the Rangers have gritty stars like Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan and tough guys who can play steady minutes like Brandon Prust and Michael Rupp.
"It's going to be a good challenge, seeing how well they've done throughout the course of the year," Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid said. "They're a team that competes hard and they have a good mix of skill and grit and even their skill guys don't mind grinding it out a bit. I think the two teams match up pretty well, so it should be a good, competitive game."
It's only January, and the season has just barely passed its midway point, but this still stands out as a huge showdown between the top two teams in the East. The Rangers come in atop the conference at 29-12-4 (62 points), one point ahead of Boston (30-13-1, 61 points), though the Bruins have played one less game.
"It's a big game for both teams," Marchand said. "We've got a one-point difference right now and we have a game in hand. It's a big game for both teams and both teams are going to come out ready to battle."
At least one Bruin even dared to suggest that this meeting might rival the emotions that went into the Cup Final rematch with the Canucks two weeks ago.
"It's a big one," Paille said. "We're over the halfway mark now and we're the top two teams in the East right now, so obviously it's a big game for both sides. They've been successful for most of the year like us, so I would expect something like Vancouver where it was a high-tempo, high-energy game. It should be exciting for both of us."
The Bruins have stressed all season that they concern themselves less with what their opponent does and more with playing their own game. In this matchup, those approaches may be one and the same with how much the Rangers mirror Boston's approach.
"When you look at who they've got on their fourth line, they've got some good depth," Julien said. "That's why they're able to roll four lines. Goaltending's not an issue with them either, so there are some similarities. They're also a team that likes to play a heavy game, so it will be an interesting matchup.
"They've played well, they've been a good, consistent team all year," Julien added. "This is going to be our first game against them, so certainly there's some excitement from our team looking forward to the matchup and I have no doubt the same thing is going on from their side."
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