For the first time since Game 5 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals the Rangers (10-10-0, 20 pts) will face off against the Boston Bruins (13-6-1, 27 pts) Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The Bruins eliminated the Rangers in five games en-route to eventually representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, while the Rangers headed into an off-season of change as Alain Vigneault was brought in to replace John Tortorella as head coach.
While the Rangers made the coaching change, it is the Bruins who made the more high-profile roster changes since last spring, adding veteran forwards Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson, as well as youngster Reilly Smith, and dispatching Tyler Seguin to Dallas and letting Jaromir Jagr depart as a free agent, while the Blueshirts pretty much returned their roster intact from a year ago with a few minor tweaks. Both teams are once again right smack in the early-season playoff picture as the Bruins sit in second place in the Atlantic Division while the Rangers reside in third in the Metropolitan Division.
The last time the Bruins set foot on Garden ice it was the Rangers celebrating an overtime goal by Chris Kreider in Game 4 of that semifinal series on May 23rd. As it turned out, that would be the only game the Rangers would win in their much-anticipated playoff series against Boston.
Of course the Rangers are not living in the past, and they are most focused on the present which sees them sitting at .500 overall, as well as on home ice where they have produced just a 4-4-0 record, having lost their last two games at MSG. This contest has a lot of meaning to it for the Blueshirts because they set off on a five-game road trip following this game, with difficult dates with the Stars, Predators, Lightning, Panthers, and Bruins on tap.
The Rangers played splendid defense over the weekend, but they struggled offensively in beating the Canadiens 1-0 before losing to the Kings by the same score. Their only goal this weekend was a power play tally by Ryan Callahan Saturday night, and the Rangers have now played 126 minutes 42 seconds since their last even-strength goal. They have generated shots and scoring chances---the Blueshirts pumped 37 shots at LA's Ben Scrivens Sunday after taking 34 against Carey Price the night before and 35 last Tuesday against Martin Brodeur of the Devils---but are once again struggling to find the back of the net. Should Rick Nash return to the lineup Tuesday against the Bruins or Thursday in Dallas against the Stars as Nash himself has proposed, that would provide a major jolt to the Rangers offensive attack, and likely add more finish to the lineup.
Whether or not Nash will play Tuesday is not yet known. The Rangers did make a roster move on Monday, however, sending forward Brandon Mashinter to the Hartford Wolf Pack, leaving the NHL club with 12 healthy forwards---not including Nash, who technically is stil on IR.
Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 29 of 30 shots Sunday night, will start in goal for New York Tuesday, facing a Bruins team he is 21-7-2 against lifetime with a 1.67 goals against average and six shutouts. It is possible that the Rangers will face an old friend--former Blueshirt goaltender Chad Johnson--on Tuesday since No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask started in goal for the Bruins Monday in their 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Johnson has won two of his three starts this season, posting a 2.30 GAA and .917 save percentage, after signing with the Bruins as a free agent his past summer. Rask is 11-5-1 so far this season, and has posted the league's third best GAA at 1.64.
The Bruins enter play having won five of their last six games--allowing only five goals in their five victories. It is the second time already this season the Bruins have won five of six; and their consistency has been terrifc, having lost two in a row just once all season to date.
Seven players currently have recorded at least ten points already for Boston, including David Krejci and Milan Lucic who both have a team-best 16 points. Smith, who had a goal and an assist against Carolina Monday, is a somewhat surprising third on the team in scoring with 13 points (3-10-13).
Boston is closing out a three-game road trip Tuesday, splitting their first two games so far with the win in Carolina preceded by a loss in Ottawa. On the season the Bruins are 5-3-0 away from TD Garden, though they have lost three of their last four road matches.