The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins are meeting in the post-season for the first time since 1973, after both had to fight through seven-game series. One team, the Rangers, was likely expected to need a long series to get past a tough first round foe (the Washington Capitals). The other, the Bruins, was not. The Bruins were especially not expected to need a three-goal third period and an overtime goal in Game 7 just to get to this point.
Regardless, both teams have made it and begin their Eastern Conference Semifinal series on Thursday night in Boston. It figures to be a knock-down, drag-out, defensive struggle. You've got two excellent goalies (Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask), and two top-heavy defensive cores (led by Zdeno Chara and Dan Girardi). There are some definite scoring threats on both teams, but the Rangers and the Bruins each have a player they desperately need to start putting up points (Rick Nash and Tyler Seguin). They seem to match up really well with each other.
Both teams are also hurt by a couple of injuries, especially the Bruins. Marc Staal remains in trouble with his eye injury for the Rangers, but the Bruins will be missing three key defensemen in Game 1. Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg and Wade Redden are all out for Thursday night's opener. They'll have to be replaced with younger players, like Dougie Hamilton, Aaron Johnson, or even recent call-up Torey Krug.
Whether or not either team gets to full strength on defense, this should be an entertaining series. These two teams were picked to be at or near the top of the Eastern Conference when we began this shortened season. Neither team quite performed up to expectations during the regular season, but both are here in round two. I think they'll give us a long, brutal battle.
Can Tuukka Rask outplay Henrik Lundqvist?
For a series with a lot of variables to it, this might be the only thing that matters. Braden Holtby got outplayed by Henrik Lundqvist in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and then he got hung out to dry while Lundqvist pitched another shutout in Game 7. The simple fact is, if Tuukka Rask isn't at least equal to Lundqvist, the Bruins might not get out of this alive. Lundqvist was average in three games of the Rangers-Capitals series, and he actually won two of them (Games 3 and 4 in New York). The Bruins must beat Lundqvist when he isn't on his game, and have Rask steal games for them when he is.
Will home ice be a factor?
The Rangers went 3-0 at Madsion Square Garden and 1-3 at Verizon Center, but they won Game 7 at Verizon Center. The Bruins went 2-2 at TD Garden and 2-1 at Air Canada Centre, but they won Game 7 at TD Garden. All these end up being are more numbers, but it'll be interesting to see what happens if the Rangers can steal one of these first two at TD Garden, or if the Bruins continue to play well on the road.
You knew this was coming: who gets going first, Tyler Seguin or Rick Nash?
This question may have already been answered by Seguin, who put up an assist on Game 7's game-winning goal against Toronto. He still only left that series with one point. Nash had an assist in Game 7 of the Rangers' series against Washington, but had only two points and no goals in the series. One of these two will need to be an X-factor for his team at some point in this series. Neither team scores enough goals for to survive their guy going dry for another two weeks. Who gets themselves right, and who goes home?
Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
National TV: NBC Sports Network, TSN