BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Bruins have had enough trouble – at times – not just putting the puck in the back of the net, but getting the puck to the net.
Now they’ll have yet another obstacle in their way – or should we say 18 of them?
When the Bruins open their Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the New York Rangers on Thursday night, they know bodies will be flying all around the ice. But it has nothing to do with the two hard-hitting teams squaring off for a trip to the Conference Finals. It’s all about the Rangers hitting the deck to keep shots from making their way to Henrik Lundqvist, who does a pretty good job with the ones that make it past sprawling defensemen and forwards alike.
New York head coach John Tortorella doesn’t care if you are the league’s leading scorer or the last defenseman on the bench; if a shot is let go, you better try to get in front of it.
“Anything they can get to, they’re going to block,” Tortorella said on Wednesday. “If they have a chance to block a shot, they are going to block a shot. Everybody.”
So it should come as no surprise that the Rangers ranked sixth in the NHL in blocked shots during the regular season, and defenseman Dan Girardi managed to get in front of 125 shots in the 48-game season – most in the NHL.
Not much has changed in the postseason, with Girardi blocking 24 shots against the Washington Capitals in the first round, with Ryan McDonagh chipping in with 20 and Ryan Callahan blocking another 18. As a team the Rangers blocked 161 shots in the first round — tops in the NHL
It will be hard for the Bruins to get the puck to Lundqvist with players diving, sprawling or making any other motion to get their body in front of the speeding rubber disc, but they’re expecting traffic in the shooting lanes and are ready to get creative if need be.
“We know they’re going to go down and block them; sometimes you maybe fake a shot and go around them,” said forward Nathan Horton, who scored four goals and had a league-best plus-11 against the Maple Leafs in the first round. “Sometimes when you do shoot through them and it gets through, it’s a good screen to have on the goalie. You just try not to hit them; you know what to expect – you just have to find a way to get the puck through.”
“It’s about finding different ways; trying to fake some shots. At the same time it’s just creating our chances and creating some havoc in front of Lundqvist, getting to loose pucks and rebounds,” said center Patrice Bergeron. “We know it’s part of the game, so they will block some shots. It’s about fighting through it.”
While the Bruins will fight to get the puck through, the Rangers might be thinking their coach should try taking a few shots every now and then. If blocking seven games worth of shots against a guy like Alexander Ovechkin wasn’t enough, now they have the NHL’s hardest shooter in Zdeno Chara coming up. But even though Boston has Z’s 107 mph slap shot in their arsenal, head coach Claude Julien know it won’t change Tortorella’s gameplan.
“Knowing their coach fairly well, he doesn’t care. He’s going to have everybody blocking shots,” Julien said on Wednesday. “It’s not too often I can tell you I’m 100-percent sure, but I’m 100-percent sure that’s the message he’s giving them.”
That message might be a little harder for Tortorella to deliver to Callahan, who suffered a season-ending broken leg courtesy of a Chara slap shot in April 2011. But then again, when the fiery Tortorella tells you to do something, it’s probably best you do it.
As for the Bruins, they know what’s coming from the Rangers. The key will be to not get discouraged and keep on firing those shots.
“The main thing for us is to know that they’re going to do that, and how we react. We have to keep our heads up and make sure we don’t bury our heads when we’re shooting,” Julien continued. “We’re going to have to work extra hard to get those pucks though and get them to reach the net. At the same time, I don’t think it’s a big secret that they have a pretty good goaltender, so traffic to the front of the net is something we’ll want to do a lot.”
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