Who Ya Got?
IN A WORD: LUNDQVIST
A commanding 5-0 rout of the Capitals in Game 7 was the exception for the Rangers in what was a long, tough slog through the first round of the playoffs. Their next series, against the Boston Bruins, promises to be no different.
The Bruins boast a deep, physical and skilled squad that won the Stanley Cup just two seasons ago. But the Rangers can beat them to advance to their second straight Eastern Conference finals appearance, and here's why: Henrik Lundqvist.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was stellar in helping the Rangers surmount a 2-0 series deficit against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. Lundqvist delivered back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7, turning away all 62 shots faced to slam the door on them.
With his ability to steal games, Lundqvist remains the X factor in the series and gives the Rangers a distinct edge in the goaltending department. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is certainly no slouch, posting a 2.49 goals-against average and .923 save percentage this postseason, but he doesn't have the same playoff experience as Lundqvist.
With both teams' defenses banged up, the goaltending will be critical in what should be a gritty, black-and-blue series. The Rangers are without Marc Staal (eye); Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference (lower-body injury) did not play in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs, and Dennis Seidenberg (undisclosed injury) played just 37 seconds.
Fatigue also might be a factor for the Bruins, who have played 17 games since mid-April due to postponements and scheduling issues.
With both teams playing a straightforward, grinding game, it appears that this tilt will become a veritable war of attrition. If this plays out to be the nasty series many expect, Lundqvist's performance likely will be the difference.
Katie Strang covers hockey for ESPNNewYork.com
MOMENTUM WILL CARRY OVER
After the Bruins' historic comeback in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Maple Leafs, there are plenty of reasons to believe they'll build off that momentum in the next round against the Rangers.
In other words, I believe the Bruins will win this series.
Probably in six or seven games.
Boston netted three goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation by playing an aggressive style of hockey against the Leafs in Game 7. It was as if this Jekyll and Hyde team was finally starting to buy into that style of play. Can that carry over?
It's amazing how a performance like this energizes a team and fills a dressing room with confidence. The Bruins couldn't be riding any higher going into this series.
But that's not to say it's going to be a cakewalk against the Rangers. The Bruins are dealing with injuries to a couple of key defensemen -- Dennis Seidenberg (undisclosed injury) and Andrew Ference (lower-body injury). If they miss significant time in this series, the Bruins' odds of advancing take a dive.
No doubt it's going to be an exciting and physical series between these two Original Six teams. Goaltending will be huge, as the Bruins' Tuukka Rask and the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist will attempt to backstop their respective teams to victory.
Both played great hockey in the first round. Lundqvist had two shutouts against the Capitals and had a 1.65 GAA in the series. Rask had a 2.49 GAA and two overtime wins.
In the end, you have to give the edge to the Bruins.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.