Rangers will try to stay the course against Bruins
Rangers coach John Tortorella doesn't like to discuss changes. He's already said that he hates the word "tweaks," and declared publicly Wednesday on the eve of Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bruins in Boston that "we don't do a lot of adjusting in the playoffs, we're going to play straight ahead."
To a great extent, that is accurate; the overall Blueshirts style isn't expected to change. Take shot-blocking, for instance.
"Anything they can get to they're going to block," Tortorella said after practice. "There are certain times, and I'm not getting into our coverage around our goalie, but if they get a chance, they are going to block a shot . . . everybody."
But some moves are being made.
To try and nullify Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who was held pointless in the final five games of the first-round series, defense tandem Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi were assigned to bang and blanket the talented winger, and took some reckless checks from a frustrated Ovechkin.
The Bruins however, don't have one player who is that "dynamic" as Girardi described him, but four lines sprinkled with quality forwards. So Tortorella, who has broken up the top pair for balance against certain opponents this season, will start that way again Thursday night. Girardi was practicing with Michael Del Zotto; McDonagh was paired with Anton Stralman. John Moore remained with Steve Eminger as the third duo.
And Tortorella, who admitted that the deeper a team goes in the playoffs, "special teams play more of a role," altered some strategy on the power play, which was 2-for-26 against the Capitals.
"We're not facing the same structure in the power play [against the Bruins]," said veteran center Brad Richards. "We have to adjust, that's what we were doing today, how we play their pressure."
It's a clean slate now, Richards said. "At the start of the [Capitals] series, "we had some good looks and didn't score, and when we got down 2-0 [in games] it took on a life of its own. We started pressing and lost ourselves a little bit sometimes. But we gained some momentum off of it eventually. In Game 6 at home we didn't score, but we had a lot of zone time. Special teams will be huge."
Speaking of huge, 6-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara, with his long reach and blistering shot, will be a intimidating presence on both sides of the special teams: He played 35 minutes in Game 7 against Toronto. "You can feel him from quite a distance," Richards said.
Chara is one element of a club "that been the same type of team for a couple years, from even before they won the Cup [in 2011]," Richards said. "They all forecheck hard, they throw a lot of pucks at the crease, they're all on the same page . . . We have different personnel, but there's not going to be a lot of surprises."
For Richards, who has played in 90 postseason games with Tampa, Dallas and here, the second round feel is different. "In the first, there's a lot of hiked-up energy, sometimes useless energy, inexperienced teams might take stupid penalties and lose a game or two. In the second, it seems like that's weeded out a bit and the emotion is more controlled and calculated. Everybody still has the energy but the importance is amped up more. You have to stay out of the box. It gets tighter and tighter as you go."
Since the teams last played on Feb. 12, "both teams have grown and developed," said Derek Stepan, who scored in that 4-3 shootout win, "so it's important to keep some of that confidence from that last series." That sure seems like another adjustment.