By Steve Silverman
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A long-dormant hatred is about to come alive.
The New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins are about to meet in the playoffs for the first time in 40 years.
Both teams emerged from the first round with spectacular seventh-game performances that set up the 10th playoff meeting between the two teams.
The Rangers did it with a sensational 5-0 road shutout of the Washington Capitals, breaking the string of six straight wins by the home team in the series. They did it in a resounding manner and played their best game of the year when it mattered most.
The Bruins win was a shocker that bordered on a sports miracle. Down three goals with 11 minutes to go on their home ice, they rallied to send the game into overtime.
The last two goals came with goalie Tuukka Rask on the bench in favor of an extra skater in the last 90 seconds. Patrice Bergeron scored the tying goal in the final minute and TD Garden erupted with sound and fury. When he scored the winner in overtime, the reverberations in the building were rapturous.
When these two teams last met in the playoffs, the protagonists from Boston were named Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Johnny Bucyk. The Rangers had Eddie Giacomin, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and Rod Gilbert.
The Bruins had beaten the Rangers in playoff meetings in 1970 and ’72, and the Rangers got their revenge in ’73. However, the ’72 defeat hurt the most because it was in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The two teams were relatively even at the time, but the Bruins had one huge advantage. They had Orr, the greatest hockey player of all time and the second-best performer in any team sport behind the great Babe Ruth.
In those days, the Bruins and Rangers went at each other with pure venom. In addition to being a skating, passing, shooting and goaltending contest, games between the Rangers and Bruins would regularly turn into brawls.
As the decades have passed, the blood rivalry between the Rangers and Bruins has cooled. The Rangers have developed more obvious passion for the Flyers and Devils. The Bruins’ main combatants have been the Canadiens and the Sabres. They also developed a hatred for the Vancouver Canucks when they met in the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago.
It’s shocking that the Rangers and Bruins have been away from each other for so long. The Yankees and Red Sox have had their tong war going for years and it seems that it never lets up. The Patriots and Jets fight it out twice a year in the regular season and then the Giants often pick up the New England battle in the Super Bowl.
The Knicks and Celtics don’t like each other, but those battles lack the passion that they once had.
But hockey is different. It runs on emotion, anger and adrenaline. The renewal of the ancient battle between the Rangers and Bruins can’t help but ignite into something special.
There are many similarities about these teams. Defense is the first priority. The Rangers do it with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and defensemen who will sacrifice their bodies to block shots.
The Bruins do it with goaltender Tuukka Rask and a defense that likes to punish opponents with thunderous body checks.
Finding enough offense will likely be an issue for both teams.
But this series is about resuming hostilities.
With so much on the line, how can they possibly be avoided?
The Rangers and Bruins. New York and Boston. John Tortorella and Claude Julien.
Waiting for the explosion.
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