By Sarah Kwak
With two physical and hardworking clubs, it was no surprise that this series between Boston and New York came down to rugged plays from fourth-liners. For the second time this week, the Bruins’ energy line came through and proved how valuable depth becomes as the spring rolls toward the summer. With the way that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has played for most of this postseason, and how sharp he looked early in Game 5 at TD Garden on Saturday night, it was going to take extraordinary efforts to get the puck past the Vezina Trophy finalist. He stoned Milan Lucic in the first period and bailed out his team time and time again. But it wasn’t enough. The Bruins ultimately overwhelmed the Rangers, taking Game 5 by a score of 3-1, and the series, four games to one.
Some thoughts and observations from the Bruins’ decisive victory:
• The Bruins’ fourth line, known affectionately around Boston as the Merlot Line for the wine-colored practice jerseys they sport, continues to prove that it is the best of its kind in the NHL. Shortly after center Gregory Campbell was traded to Boston in 2010, he started skating with Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. When they first took the ice together, there were no fireworks, no signs from heaven that they had found their on-ice soul mates, but during the last three years, that’s exactly what the trio has become. They were instrumental in Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2011, and again, when the goals weren’t coming, they found a way with their industrious pursuit of the puck.
• On the game-winner in Game 5, however, the Merlot Line was helped along by a couple of wretched turnovers by Rangers defenseman Roman Hamrlik. The 39-year-old looked his age, making two lazy, careless passes that led directly to Campbell’s goal at 13:41 of the second period. This is where New York probably really missed Marc Staal, who is still sidelined with an eye injury.
• The Bruins’ defense contributed seven of the team’s 15 goals in this series, and four of them belonged to Boston’s rookie revelation, Torey Krug. The 22-year-old product of Michigan State scored his fourth goal Saturday, a one-timer on the power play early in the second period. He became the first rookie defenseman in the post-expansion era to score four goals in his first five playoff games. The native of Livonia, Mich. (hometown to legend Mike Modano and Canucks center Ryan Kesler) tore through the second half of the AHL season, scoring eight goals and 31 points in his last 30 games. But he’s been even better as an NHLer. His father, Kyle, a coach in Michigan and scout for the London Knights of the OHL, told the Detroit Free Press last week, “His head was on a swivel. He knew where everybody was at. I’m not so sure he was always that way in the American League. He could get away with it in college, but now he’s really focused.” The youngster has superb ice vision, and off his quick release explodes a fast and hard shot — surprising given that the blueliner stands just 5-feet-9-inches and weighs 180 pounds. Three of his four of his goals came from beyond 50 feet (the other from 39 feet out), so against a shot-blocking team like New York, that means he gets them off his stick quickly and accurately, and gives opponents little chance to set up in front of him.
• The Rangers’ power play, woefully anemic all spring, came through again early Saturday when Dan Girardi one-timed a shot from the point through traffic. Brian Boyle’s big, 6′-7″, 277-pound body served as a screen in front of Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, who couldn’t pick up the hard and low shot. It was the Rangers’ second power-play goal in their last three opportunities and their first on the road in these playoffs. Previously, New York had gone 0-for-21 with the man advantage away from Madison Square Garden. The goal raised their postseason power-play percentage to 9.3; their ever-so-ordinary special-teams play one of their most glaring shortcomings.
• Now that the Rangers have officially started their summer, here comes the hard part. Offseason personnel moves and changes are coming. But to what extent will New York be a different team come September? Will John Tortorella still be behind the bench? How will they manage their cap? Next season, the Rangers’ payroll, which was $68.7 million this season, has to stay below $64.3 million. And come July 1, defenseman Ryan McDonagh will be an RFA, as will Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello. None of them made more than $1.3 million this year and, well, that’s going to change. But it’s not so much the contracts that New York needs to sign so much as the bloated one it has to work around. Ah, Brad Richards, healthy scratch for Games 4 and 5 against Boston … what will the Rangers do about him? He is signed for $6.6 million per year until 2020, and an amnesty buyout looks likely at the moment, but that is one hefty load of buyer’s remorse. The silver lining? New York is finally getting Chris Drury and Wade Redden’s buyouts off its books this summer. So it could just be time to add a new mistake to the payroll.