The Rangers and the Bruins have seen a lot of each other lately. The two teams met in last year's Eastern Conference semifinals, with Boston taking the series 4-1. The teams met again 10 days again at Madison Square Garden, where despite out-shooting the Bruins 44-22, the Rangers were unable to avenge their playoff loss, and fell 2-1.
Now, in the NHL Thanksgiving Showdown (which is naturally played the day after Thanksgiving), the two teams will go at it at TD Garden in Boston in their first meeting in the Commonwealth since the Bruins eliminated the Rangers in the 2013 playoffs. Here are some big questions entering Friday's game.
Can Patrice Bergeron bust out of his slump?
Entering this afternoon's matinee, the Bruins do-it-all forward has gone his last six games without recording a point. During that stretch, the Bruins have posted a 4-1-1 record, but the former Selke winner has not played up to his usual standard, including during a shootout loss to St. Louis where he actually went below .500 in the faceoff dot.
While the Bruins have more than weathered the storm during Bergeron's slide, Boston is looking for its consistent, productive center to return to form. While he's been playing with a new linemate in Louis Eriksson, who's been in-and-out of the lineup with a concussion, Bergeron finding his offensive game will be key to any prolongued Boston success this season.
Will the line of Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Carl Hagelin start to produce?
After missing over a month with a concussion, Nash's first game back to action was actually 10 days ago in that 2-1 loss versus Boston. While he was held in check that night, Nash has two goals in four games since making his return. Nash was originally paired with Richards and Ryan Callahan, but Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault plugged Hagelin in to install some speed. When the Rangers traveled Florida on Wednesday, the experiment worked on paper (Nash and Hagelin both scored, although Hagelin's was an empty-netter) and the line generated a lot of chances all night.
Nash should expect to be shadowed by Zdeno Chara all game, and, probably Bergeron as well. The key might be if Hagelin's speed can create time and space for the big winger, who, if given enough of it, is still one of the most lethal forwards in all of hockey.
Will the Bruins fourth line continue to torment the the Rangers?
They call them the Merlot line (and, if you didn't know, it's because the group wears Merlot colored jerseys during practice), and despite being the Bruins fourth line, it's been a group that has been very potent against the Rangers. Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille accounted for both goals in the team's first meeting of the season, and Gregory Campbell dropped the gloves. In last year's 5-game series, the trio combined to total four goals and six assists.
Don't expect Alain Vigneault to match up the Rangers top defensive pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi against the Merlot-ers, but expect to see a lot of confident shifts from the Bruins fourth line, who is terrorizing the Rangers of late.
Can New York's power play be a factor?
In last year's playoff series, the Rangers power play went 2-16. This season, while the special team's unit has been better in glimpses, it's still clocking in at just under 19 percent, and has been pretty inconsistent. With the physical brand of hockey these two team's play, penalties are inevitable, and both teams will get a chance to make the other pay while shorthanded.
The Rangers have been trying some new looks on their power play, and connected for one really nice goal against Florida on this designed seam-play with their second unit. With guys on the first grouping like Nash and Richards, the power play isn't without talent. The Ranger's don't need the power play to be outstanding, just not a momentum killer.
Will Tuukka Rask continue to out-duel Henrik Lundqvist?
The goalie matchup we'll see today is likely an Olympic preview (if Finland and Sweden ever meet). Rask, who posted fantastic numbers in last season's playoffs, did not spare the Rangers in that stretch, holding New York to only 10 goals in the five games. When the teams met earlier this November, it was Rask again who stood on his head, turning away 43 Rangers shots in a 2-1 victory. Rask was able to steal a game on the road, while Lundqvist was once again beaten by him.
By no stretch has Lundqvist played poorly against Boston, Rask has just been a little better. We know we'll get good goaltending, and a potentially low-scoring game. The question is whether one guy will do a little more than the other.