On one side of the Bruins-Rangers series you have a team that is tough, values good defense, has terrific goaltending and struggles to produce much of anything on the power play. On the other side of the Bruins-Rangers you have … well, you have the same thing, actually.
The Bruins and Rangers may not be carbon copies of each other — there are certainly differences between the two — but they aren’t very dissimilar at all. Both teams have battle-tested head coaches who clearly value the defensive style of the game, putting the emphasis on being disciplined and strong with the puck.
“We’re two very similar teams,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said on ESPN Radio on Tuesday. “It’s going to be along the boards. It’s going to be about battles. They’re a big, strong team. They win a helluva game last night in their comeback. They’re deep, they’re balanced.
“Both teams play a pretty similar game as far as straight ahead and just grinding it out.”
(Of course, Tortorella went back against that when meeting with the media Wednesday. Tortorella being Tortorella. Whatever.)
However, the numbers do back up the case that the teams at least find success in similar ways. Consider these tidbits.
- The Bruins were third in the NHL this season in goals against, allowing 2.21 goals per game. The Rangers were fourth in the league at a 2.25 goals-per-game clip.
- The Bruins were 13th in goals scored per game at 2.65; the Rangers were 15th with 2.62.
- The Rangers were third in the league in 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio at 1.30. The Bruins were fourth at 1.28.
- Neither team has a very good power play. New York ranked 23rd in the league (15.7 percent) and the Bruins were 26th at 14.6 percent.
- While neither team had a point-per-game player (the Bruins didn’t even have a 40-point player), each team had six players register at least 20 points.
- Both teams’ goalies? They’re really good. New York’s Henrik Lundqvist was a Vezina finalist this season, while many feel Boston’s Tuukka Rask should have made the final cut as well.
Lundqvist: 24-16-3, 2.05 goals against average, .926 save percentage | Rask: 19-10-5, 2.00 goals against average, .929 save percentage
The two teams certainly looked pretty even in the regular season, too. Here’s how they matched up in their three meetings, a season series that was completed all the way back on Feb. 12.:
Jan. 19, Bruins 3-1: The Bruins beat the Rangers 3-1 on opening night … Boston got balanced scoring and Rask made 20 saves … Bruins killed off a 5-on-3 penalty early in the third period to preserve the win
Jan. 23, Rangers 4-3 (OT): Marian Gaborik (since traded to Columbus at the trade deadline) netted a hat trick … Gaborik completed the hat trick with a goal 27 seconds into overtime … Nathan Horton scored with 4:23 left in regulation to tie the game after New York had led 2-0
Feb. 12, Rangers 4-3 (SO): Bruins come from down 3-0 in the third to tie the game in final minute … Brad Marchand scored at 19:17 of the third period to tie the game … Rangers captain Ryan Callahan won the game with a shootout goal
That was all a very, very long time ago, though. Both teams look different now than they did back then, with the most notable change being that the Rangers no longer have Gaborik, who they traded at the deadline. One of the pieces New York got in return for Gaborik was Derick Brassard. He’s now playing top-six forward minutes, and he led the Blueshirts in points in the first round with two goals and seven assists. The Rangers also acquired Ryane Clowe (who’s currently injured), and it was clear that the moves gave the Rangers a jolt down the stretch. They went 9-2-1 after the trade deadline.
“I think they tried to,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said, “I guess, bring a team, an identity that was a little bit closer to last year. … They really like the grittiness of their team and the work ethic of their team. I think they tried to reestablish that identity and obviously it’s worked for them.”
While Julien was obviously talking about the Rangers, he could have just as easily been talking about his own. Expect that to happen again a few times in the next couple of weeks once the puck drops on this Eastern Conference semifinal on Thursday.