On the heels of a world-class goaltending exhibition from Henrik Lundqvist, a defensive clampdown on Alex Ovechkin and offensive contributions from unexpected sources in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals, the Rangers enter the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bruins in Boston Thursday night with some confidence and momentum.
The Bruins orchestrated one of the greatest Game 7 comebacks in NHL history Monday, when they trailed the Maple Leafs 4-1 halfway through the third period and won, 5-4, in overtime. They have some mojo working for them.
But it should not be overlooked that the Bruins almost frittered away a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with Toronto, and are banged up on defense, with three regulars injured.
The Rangers, on the other hand, fought back from being down two games to none, and then 3-2, to finally eliminate the Capitals at Verizon Center, where they had minimal playoff success. Along the way have discovered some resiliency and an identity.
"We try to play the same way regardless ," said Derick Brassard, who thrived in the series with two goals and nine points. "We're going to look at some things we did well and try and repeat that. But we know how we want to play in our own zone, in the neutral zone and the offensive zone, so nothing much is going to change, I don't think."
The straight-ahead, forechecking, battle-on-the-boards style is similar to the Bruins, who are not the highest-scoring team but deep and physical at forward, great in the faceoff circle and added a proven playoff veteran in Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline.
"They're a big, heavy team. They're tough," Rick Nash said. "It's going to be a tough series."
Nash, who was held to two assists by the Capitals, knows he needs to find the net for the Rangers to advance.
"I think the offense will come," said Nash, who scored 21 goals in the shortened season. "I was getting a few chances [Monday], got a few chances [Sunday]. That's my main goal, trying to help the team win. It's unfortunate that I can't do it right now by bringing the offense. I'm just trying to make good defensive plays, try to set guys up, bring some momentum swings."
To disrupt Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, Nash and the Rangers will need to match the Bruins' ability to crash the crease, create screens and deflect shots.
The recently created third line of Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Derek Dorsett will pitch in on that front, as coach John Tortorella may have figured out a combination of four lines that he can use with some reliability: Carl Hagelin-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan, Nash-Brassard-Mats Zuccarello, and Chris Kreider-Brad Richards-Arron Asham.
The Blueshirts might have an edge down low because experienced defensemen Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and former Ranger Wade Redden have assorted injuries. Torey Krug, a second-year pro, was called up Tuesday to join Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara and Matt Barkowski.
But David Krejci, who has a league-leading 13 points in the postseason, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr are more balanced and formidable than the Capitals as a group and will test the Rangers' blueliners.
The difference-maker may well be in goal, where Lundqvist has been razor sharp, allowing just one goal in the final three games against the Capitals.
"You're definitely nervous and feeling the pressure, but as long as I'm focused on what I have to do, it's going to help me," said Lundqvist, who was beaming after the game Monday. "But the way we've been playing the last two, three games, as a goalie, it's a great feeling. You feel the confidence from them and, hopefully, they feel my confidence."