Looking at this Eastern Conference semifinal matchup, with the exception of goaltending, there's no other area in which one team is better than the other. It's going to be a straight-up grudge match. There are no secrets in this series. Bruins coach Claude Julien and Rangers coach John Tortorella know each other well and know each other's systems.
This is the type of series that will be determined in the "battle areas" along the boards, in the corners and in front of the net, according to one NHL scout familiar with both teams.
"Boston plays a gritty style, and New York does, too," the scout said. "The Bruins are a puck-pursuit team, and the Rangers are, too. Those battle areas will be the key to the series. The team that wins those areas will be the team that has success. It's going to be a hard-fought series. It'll be a great series. Both teams are pretty good hockey teams."
It's actually tough to give either team the edge in this series because they play similar styles, but here are a few things the Bruins can do in order to have success.
The Rangers have the clear edge in net. There's no denying the talent of the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist. He owns a 21-7-2 record in 30 career games against the Bruins, including a 1.67 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and six shutouts.
"He's good against everybody, not just the Bruins," said the scout. "He's a real competitor and he loves to win. You can't count him out because he's always trying to make that next save and that's his biggest strength as a goaltender. When the stakes get high, that's when he plays better."
Rask has played only nine games against the Rangers during his NHL career, going 3-3-3 with a 2.09 GAA and a .928 save percentage. This season, he was 1-0-2 against New York. The Rangers' game plan to beat Rask is a logical one, but New York still needs to execute it.
"It's no different than any other quality goaltender," the scout said. "The key is New York has to make it hard on him. You have to try to take his vision and mobility away. Rask is a more aggressive goaltender than Lundqvist. Henrik tends to play deep, where Rask comes out and challenges. The more New York can get traffic in front of him and limit his mobility and vision, it will be harder for Rask to play the type of game he wants to play, and that will also make it more difficult for him to control his rebounds."
As far as line matchups, each team's top two lines carry an impressive skill set. The bottom two lines on each side play more of the grind game. Here's where the Bruins need consistency. Boston's top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton is strong from a skill standpoint, and they proved it for the majority of the quarterfinal series against the Maple Leafs. That trio combined for 29 points in seven games. They'll need to use a little more muscle against the Rangers in order to have similar success in this round. The Bruins' second line will be key, too, depending on which winger will be on the right side of Patrice Bergeron. Based on Wednesday's practice, Jaromir Jagr, who played on that line during Monday's Game 7 win, was back with Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Tyler Seguin remained with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley on the third line.
"There's always some adjustment with new linemates. [Jagr] obviously likes to keep his speed and read the play, so it's up to me to read where he's going, as well, so we're on the same page," Bergeron said. "We need to be talking and create some chemistry together. I thought we had some really good looks and some really good chances, and if we stay hard on the puck in the offensive zone, which we should be, against the Rangers it's going to be tough to get those pucks to go in. We have to make sure we're hard and we're strong and if we do that we're going to get some good looks."
In overtime of Game 7, Julien put Marchand, Bergeron and Seguin back together, and that line produced the game-winning goal against the Maple Leafs. If Julien decides to keep that trio together for this next series, it needs to produce more against the Rangers.
In their quarterfinal series against the Washington Capitals, the Rangers blocked a total of 161 shots in seven games. That's a lot of bumps and bruises. In fact, the Rangers are considered one of the best teams in the league in this category. Julien and the Bruins are 100 percent certain the Rangers will continue to block shots. If the Bruins can limit New York's chances, Boston should have a better chance of beating Lundqvist.
"It's important for any team to win," the scout said of blocking shots. "The way teams defend nowadays, everybody collapses coverage and brings numbers down below the tops of the circles, so one of the ways you play against it is you use the points. Part of being good in your own zone is denying the opportunity of the puck getting to the net, and blocking shots is a big part of that. The Rangers have a team of players that buy into that philosophy and are willing to make the sacrifices to deny that puck from getting there. It's an important aspect for New York."
In the spring of 2012, the Bruins learned first-hand how a team with an effective shot-blocking system can beat them. The Washington Capitals blocked a total of 141 shots in seven games during their quarterfinal series against Boston. In the three games the Bruins did win, Washington's blocked-shot totals were much lower in the games the Capitals won.
"It's about finding different ways and faking some shots," Bergeron said. "At the same time, we need to create our chances, create some havoc in front of Lundqvist and get to the loose pucks, loose rebounds. We know it's part of the game and they will block some shots, but it's about fighting through it."
New York and Boston are once again pretty similar in terms of their special teams. Their respective power-play units were dreadful during the regular season. The Rangers finished 23rd in the league with a 15.7 percent success rate. In their first-round series against the Capitals, New York went 2-for-28 on the PP. The Bruins ranked 25th during the regular season and went 3-for-20 against the Maple Leafs.
"Both teams will obviously do their best to try to improve in those areas because obviously the power play has a chance to be difference-makers in games," the scout said.
On the flip side, both penalty-killing units are effective. Boston's PK ranked fourth during the season and killed off 16 of 21 short-handed situations against Toronto. New York finished the season 15th and killed off 16 of 18 against the Capitals.
The Rangers have won 11 of their past 15 regular-season games against the Bruins, including seven of their past nine. New York is 22-7-2 against Boston since 2005-2006. In Boston, the Rangers are 5-1-0 in their past six games at TD Garden, and have outscored the Bruins 15-10 in that span. These teams have been separated by one goal in 19 of their past 24 games, including eight games that required overtime and six that went to a shootout, dating back to March 24, 2007. But this is the Stanley Cup playoffs, and these teams have not met in the postseason in 40 years.