By Steve Silverman
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When the Rangers take the ice Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden against their ancient rivals from Boston, it will be a game with huge implications for both teams.
The Rangers appear to be rather safely situated in the playoff structure with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, but the Bruins are coming off losses in all three games on their dangerous California road trip, lessening their grip on a postseason spot.
Coming back home — or at least getting back to the East Coast — should make the Bruins feel a bit more comfortable.
The Rangers are going to provide a major test. New York’s active defense and Henrik Lundqvist in the net are a formidable combination.
The Bruins’ tough, physical style will test the Rangers, and so will the 1-2 punch of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand up front, along with David Krejci and slick youngster David Pastrnak on the second line. When he is at his best, goalie Tuukka Rask is capable of shutting down any team, but he has not been as good as Lundqvist this season.
While the Rangers don’t need the game as much as the Bruins, the visitors are capable of providing a major test for any playoff team because of their relentless style. Boston will come with a strong forecheck and it usually excels at cashing in on opportunities when it forces turnovers in the neutral and offensive zones.
The difference between the teams may be the Rangers’ speed, especially when matched up against the Bruins’ back end, which has proven to be particularly vulnerable from time to time.
The Bruins’ defensemen are highly physical, honest and tough players, but getting the puck out of their own zone has proven to be a chore.
Torey Krug can skate like the wind and is usually capable of carrying the puck out of the defensive end, but the rest of the defensive crew is rarely as capable.
That includes the great Zdeno Chara. The big man with the long reach is formidable when it comes to coverage, breaking up rushes and intercepting passes, but he struggles to dig the puck out of corner and skate with possession out of the zone.
Mainstays Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid also lack in that regard, with Kevan Miller only slightly better.
The team that executes the forecheck efficiently will have the best chance to win Wednesday. Turnovers could end up being the name of the game. The team that protects the puck likely will leave the Garden with two points.
Despite their aforementioned issues of late, the Bruins have been brilliant on the road this season, going 23-10-3. The Bruins excel at keeping the game simple and limiting their mistakes. They missed the playoffs a year ago, and head coach Claude Julien is quite determined to not let that happen again.
The Rangers and the Bruins both have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs. Both teams have the goaltending to go a long way, but the Blueshirts are the ones with the postseason track record against the mighty Washington Capitals, the odds-on favorites to make it to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Bruins have not fared as well in the regular season against the Capitals, but they play the kind of game that could limit Washington’s offensive opportunities because their defense can play physical and nasty. They have not had much luck of late against Caps goalie Braden Holtby, but if they can rattle him the rest of their game matches up well.
The Caps may be the team to beat in the East, but the Rangers and Bruins have what it takes to pull the upset. Wednesday’s game could be a preview of an intense series down the road.
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