Boston Bruins / NHL News

OPENING NIGHT Preview: RANGERS @ B’s

[Photo via ESPN]

[Photo via ESPN]

Now that the 113-day lockout has finally come to an end, us hockey enthusiasts get to focus on the players on the ice instead of ridiculous bantering and politicking. The abbreviated 48-game regular season is expected to begin on January 19 with a classic Original Six match-up between the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.  These two teams finished with the top two spots in the Eastern Conference and played four tightly contested games against one another a season ago.  More of the same is expected this year. With that in mind, let’s look at the key players from the Rangers and the Bruins that will have a huge impact in this season opening match-up.

RANGERS

Henrik Lundqvist
Any hockey team’s success starts with good goaltending, and Lundqvist lived up to his nickname “The King” last season when he won the Vezina Trophy and led the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals.  He was especially tough against Boston, posting a staunch 1.75 GAA in four starts.  Unlike a lot of NHLers, Lundqvist did not play overseas during the lockout, so it will be interesting to see whether the one-week training camp will be enough to shake off the rust that could possible deter him from having his usual spectacular performances.

Marian Gaborik
Gaborik was the offensive leader for the Rangers last season after scoring 41 goals. However, his production dramatically declined in the postseason after suffering a torn labrum in the Rangers’ first round series against the Ottawa Senators.  As a result, he only scored five goals in 20 playoff games.  The lockout enabled him more time to recover before the start of the season, and he and the Rangers coaching staff insist that he is ready to go.  He too was a Bruins killer last year, notching four goals against them, including the game-winning goal in OT with 3.6 seconds left in the clubs’ first head-to-head match-up of the season.

Rick Nash
He is touted as the final offensive piece the Rangers need to get over the hump and nab that first Stanley Cup since 1994.  The Rangers failed to get Nash during the trade deadline last February, and they could have used him as they struggled to find the back of the net during the postseason, leading to their eventual defeat to New Jersey.  The man who has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past five seasons has a chance to become a legend performing under the bright lights of New York after spending the first nine years of his career in lowly Columbus.  He suffered a groin injury while playing in Switzerland during the lockout, but he stated that there is no more pain and that he is ready to play when the season commences.

BRUINS

The Lucic-Krejci-Horton Line
You never quite know which version of this line you’re going to get. Though Horton has already told the Boston sports media dozens of times that his head feels fine, concussions will always be a constant concern. Lucic has done virtually nothing to prepare for the season, and there’s already a resurgence of Krejci trade rumors. If this line performs like it did in 2011, it will certainly be able to dominate once again. If it plays like it did last year, when Krejci only made headlines in the postseason for getting hit by a piece of falling glass, there will be a massive hole in the Bruins’ game.

Tuukka Rask
Make no mistake; this is Tuukka’s year. He has kept sharp all throughout the lockout. In his eight games played with the Czech Republic’s Plzen HC, he recorded a .936 save percentage. Rask will be relish the opportunity to become the B’s starter, and he will perform accordingly. Of course, there are questions regarding his durability, especially with the minor groin tweak while with Plzen. But on Saturday, when the Garden is absolutely electric, Rask will feed off it and deliver a quality performance in net. There is a tremendous chip on his shoulder, and combined with lucrative contract negotiations looming in the summer, as well as Tim Thomas’s recent announcement of his intention to return, it will all play to the Bruins’ advantage.

Dougie Hamilton
The B’s took Hamilton ninth in the 2011 Entry Draft, and the 19-year-old defenseman is already turning heads. When asked if Hamilton reminded him of himself when he was young, Chara told the Herald‘s Steve Conroy, “He was way better than I was, I can tell you right now. Way better than I was at his age.” Chara went on. “You don’t often see guys being so humble and almost like shy, coming around being so good. We all can see he’s very talented and willing to learn. It’s exciting for all of us to have a guy like that around and try [to] help him out as much as we can and see him growing as a player and as a person.” It will be interesting to see who Coach Julien pairs Hamilton with, but expect an even further bolstered defense from the Bruins.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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One thought on “OPENING NIGHT Preview: RANGERS @ B’s

  1. Horton’s health is arguably the biggest key to the Bruins success this season. When he is healthy, he is a legitimate 30 goal scorer (I know he won’t get there this year, but he’ll be on 30 goal pace if healthy). The Bruins, of course, lacked that kind of potent first line last season.

    Milan Lucic is a concern to me. He didn’t play overseas during the lockout, and reportedly didn’t go to any of the voluntary offseason workouts during the lockout. Lucic has been a disappointment for over a year now (starting with the bad postseason in 2011), and you would hope he isn’t one of these guys who just took the money and ran. It would be nice if Krejci didn’t disappear for half of the regular season too.

    I’m not worried about Tuukka Rask holding up in net. It’s a shortened regular season. The worry will be next year with the full 82 game slate. Rask has been the most revered goalie prospect since he was 17-18 years old. This should be his time.

    Right now, the Rangers are the better team, though. We know about their defense and goaltending, but a first line of Nash/Richards/Gaborik is sick.

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