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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Boston Bruins and New York Rangers Preview: 5 Expectations


Heading into Saturday’s much anticipated season opener at the TD Garden, there a few things I feel fans should take note of.

By Tyler W. Leahy

1. Expect an intense atmosphere

With two Original 6 teams matching up in the very hockey-hungry city of Boston, expect a very loud, energetic TD Garden. Just this past Tuesday, the loyal Boston fans filled the TD Garden to capacity with their full force of 17,565 to watch the Black & Gold game, a scrimmage between the Bruins and their AHL counterparts from Providence. Fans are eager for the first puck drop of this lockout-shortened season, and they’ll be in for a treat with two of the premiere Eastern Conference teams battling for sixty minutes of hard-nosed hockey.

2. Expect the Rangers to be aggressive early 

Newly-acquired Rangers forward Rick Nash
Newly-acquired Rangers forward Rick Nash

On paper, the New York Rangers have perhaps the most dynamic offense in the NHL. Scoring threats Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and newly-acquired Rick  Nash combined for 255 points in the 2011-12 season. If that isn’t difficult enough for opposing defenses to swallow, 22-year-old center Derek Stepan pitched in another 51 points. Expect the top two lines of this powerhouse offense to get a high volume of shifts early in the game. The high-flying Rangers will exhibit their speed early and often; Nash will be determined to make some noise in his Rangers debut.

3. Expect a balanced Bruins approach

For the Bruins to win this hockey game, they will need an attentiveness to detail. With the up-front star power of the Rangers, it will be important for the B’s to limit turnovers and mistakes. Loose pucks, board play, face-offs—they’ll all be pertinent to Boston’s success in this one. I anticipate the Bruins to play the scrappy brand of hockey that they play so well, and I expect them to make an early statement as the more physical team. I also expect head coach Claude Julien to utilize the team’s depth, employing short but energetic shifts from all lines, both offensively and defensively. In Tuesday’s Black & Gold scrimmage, the line of Chris Bourque, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley was most impressive. It will be exciting to see the chemistry of this likely third line in game action. Fans can also look forward to the debut of touted rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton and the long-awaited return of sharp-shooting forward Nathan Horton. Anticipation is also high for the play of forward Tyler Seguin following success in European play.

4. Expect a sloppy game

With such a hurried training camp, it would be wrong to expect a clean, polished debut to this shortened NHL season. Many players are exhibiting fitness that is suspect at best. The Bruins and Rangers have proven to be relatively healthy thus far, but the first regular season game will prove which legs are ready to go—and which aren’t. Whichever team can minimize the likes of bad line changes and odd-man rushes is likely to come out the victor. Also, tired legs cause sloppy penalties. Could we see some exhaustion in the second and third periods of this game?

5. Expect the most important player to be Tuuka Rask
Tuuka Rask takes over as starting goaltender this season in the wake of Tim Thomas’ absence. While Rask is a proven NHL goaltender and has the faith of his coaches, teammates and fans, there is still a looming question: is he ready to go? While he was faced with a few unfortunate bounces on Tuesday night, Rask still surrendered six goals to an AHL squad. He looked downright sloppy, and causes worries for some fans heading into Saturday night’s game. If he plays like his usual self, there could be a goaltending battle between himself and stonewall-esque Rangers net-minder Henrik Lundqvist. If Rask appears to be unprepared as he did earlier this week, expect the outcome of the game to ultimately rest on his shoulders.

Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask allows a goal to Max Suave in Tuesday's scrimmage
Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask allows a goal to Max Suave in Tuesday’s scrimmage

Prediction: In an intense but mistake-ridden game, the Bruins ride their home ice support to a 5-4 victory.

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