By Steve Silverman
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The Rangers had an opportunity to jump on top of the Bruins and steal the first game of the series.
Boston started the series with three of their veteran defensemen sidelined. Dennis Seidenberg, perhaps the most underrated player on the team, injured his leg in the seventh game of the series against Toronto and was unavailable.
Andrew Ference and Wade Redden were also unavailable. Yes, that Redden.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien had to go with three rookies in their place. Dougie Hamilton, who may well become a star in the NHL in the future, was asked to take a regular turn after spending much of the first round in the press box. The Bruins had recalled Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug from the team’s minor-league affiliate in Providence.
Did any of this enter into John Tortorella’s thinking as he devised his team’s strategy?
Take away three veteran defensemen who have seen it all in their careers and bring in three babies who are just feeling their way.
If Tortorella had wanted to take home-ice advantage away from the Bruins, he could have attacked the defense with an extra forechecker and forced the action.
Instead, he stuck with his usual plan of attack, which is to play defense throughout and do whatever he can to protect goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Now there’s a player who needs protection.
Lundqvist is the best goalie in the NHL and probably the best goalie in the world. The Bruins, another defensive-minded team, rarely light up the scoreboard. They are the gang that can’t shoot straight. For every shot that ends up on goal, they usually have an equal number that can’t even find their way to the target.
Instead of pressing the three youngsters and forcing them to carry the puck up ice decisively, they gave them a wide, welcoming swath of ice and allowed the youngsters to feel comfortable.
As a result, the Bruins were not under pressure in Game 1. They took most of the action to the Rangers and used a decisive overtime period that ended when Brad Marchand took a slick pass from Patrice Bergeron and tucked it between Lundqvist’s legs.
Bruins 3, Rangers 2.
This should have been a game in which the Bruins panicked because the Rangers’ forwards undressed the Boston defensemen in the offensive zone.
While it seems unlikely that Ference is going to be back soon, Seidenberg and Redden may be back by the second game. Perhaps not until the third game.
Under most circumstances, the Rangers’ game plan is appropriate for their personnel. There is not a lot of goal-scoring talent, even with the presence of Rick Nash — we’re still waiting for his first postseason goal with the Blueshirts – and Brad Richards, who has slowed down quite a bit.
So it usually makes sense to play stellar defense, depend on Lundqvist and wait for the opponent to make a mistake or two.
But not in Game 1 against the injured Bruins. You don’t let a trio of rookies feel comfortable in their own zone. You put the heat on them and make them sweat and work when they carry the puck. You aggressively forecheck so you can get turnovers and force Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask into making acrobatic saves.
It seems obvious, but it takes a courageous decision by a coach who is set in his ways.
It would have made him uncomfortable, but it would have been the right choice.
Tortorella didn’t make it and the Rangers are down a game.
Hand that loss to the Rangers’ coach.
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