With much anticipation the Rangers finally open up their 87th season Saturday night at the TD Garden when they skate against the Boston Bruins in an Original Six matchup. Coming off a 109-point season a year ago---the second-highest point total in franchise history---there are high expectations for a Rangers team that came within two wins of reaching the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, and then went out and added All Star forward Rick Nash to its mix during the off-season. Likewise, expectations are also high in Boston, with the Bruins having captured another Northeast Division crown in 2011-12, one year after having won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2011.
But a shortened 48-game 2013 season schedule, preceded by a mini six-day training camp for all teams, throws much of what was thought to be expected into disarray. Which teams will jell quickest? How major a factor will injuries be? What of the fatigue factor, what with playing 48 games in 99 days? And how does a schedule filled only with a games against your own conference, providing for must-win four-point games every night, affect each particular team in the league?
The answers to these questions will be played out in the days, weeks, and months to come, but on Saturday there will just be the sheer joy of the regular season finally getting underway. And in Boston the Rangers will face a team that is almost its mirror image. Both the Rangers and Bruins are defense-first teams---the Rangers ranked third in team defense in 2011-12, the Bruins were sixth---which play a physical, grinding style in front of quality goaltenders. The Bruins scored the second-most goals in the NHL a year ago, ranking nine spots higher than the Rangers, but the Blueshirts likely narrowed the gap by adding Nash, a seven time 30+-goal scorer.
Four players will make their Rangers debuts on Saturday---Nash, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, and Brandon Segal---while the Bruins will welcome back rugged winger Nathan Horton, who missed nearly half of last season due to a concussion.
These two teams played four times a year ago, with the Rangers winning three of the four games---including both at TD Garden. Marian Gaborik's overtime power-play game-winner lifted the Rangers to a 3-2 victory on January 21st, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 42 shots in a 3-0 win on February 14th. The Rangers have won nine of their last 12 meetings against the Bruins, including five of six at TD Garden.