The Rangers and the Bruins are set to do battle in the Eastern Conference Semis, and this series is expected to be as difficult a series as the Washington series. The Rangers haven’t faced the Bruins since the very beginning of the season, so their 2-0-1 record against the Bruins this season does not reflect the deadline deals that both teams made. Coming into the playoffs, the Rangers were one of the hottest teams in the NHL, and the Bruins were playing .500 hockey. Now they both have great momentum, with the Rangers taking the final two games against the Caps and the Bruins coming back from down 4-1 in the third to dispatch the Leafs in seven.
The Bruins and Rangers are very similar teams in makeup, but they play two very different styles of hockey. The Rangers are a very aggressive team, and the Bruins are the exact opposite. Boston plays a trapping style and a passive, physical game to wear down their opponents. The only similarity between the Rangers and the Bruins is that they are both stellar defensive teams.
The Bruins are a very passive team, and you will frequently see them send just one forechecker into the fray. Claude Julien uses a 1-2-2 and a 1-4 forecheck, which focuses on clogging the neutral zone and preventing zone entries on the rush. However, don’t be fooled by their passive system. The Bruins have mastered this style –having played it without much roster turnover for the better part of the 2010′s– and are one of the best teams at even strength. The Bruins are much simpler than the Caps, as you will rarely see them mix up their styles at even strength. That said, simpler doesn’t mean worse, it just means simpler. The Bruins are a transition team, and will burn you if you turn the puck over.
The defensive zone is where the Bruins and Rangers begin to show similarities in their style of play. The Bruins, like the Rangers, play a hybrid strong-side overload and low zone collapse, depending on puck location and game situation. The basic premise of the strong side overload is to outnumber the offensive players along the half boards, take the puck away, and transition to offense. If the opposition manages to get the puck to the weak side or below the goal line, the Bruins will then switch to a low zone collapse, which clogs the middle and takes away shooting lanes by blocking shots.
Believe it or not, the Rangers actually have an advantage on the powerplay. The Bruins are awful with the man advantage, and a lot of it has to do with the same issues we see with the Rangers. They are very static in their umbrella powerplay –something the Rangers use frequently when they have the man advantage– and pass up on quality shot attempts. That said, the Bruins still have Zdeno Chara out at the point, and his shot is capable of ending wars. This team has the skill to be deadly on the powerplay, especially when you look at the personnel deployed with the man advantage.
Generally, teams will cycle between a diamond, a box, and a wedge+1 depending on puck location and powerplay setup. The Bruins are no different here, but I didn’t see much of a diamond setup in their series with the Leafs. We may see that a bit more against the Rangers, as the Rangers alternate between an umbrella powerplay and a 1-3-1. When the Rangers switch to the 1-3-1, expect the Bruins to shift into a diamond or a wedge+1. When the Rangers are in an umbrella, expect the Bruins to shift to a standard box.
The Bruins are a very good team, and they are not going to be a pushover for the Rangers. The Rangers have won the regular season series for the past two years, but this is not the regular season. This is another series where each game could be a coin flip. Let’s hope that each flip comes up heads again.