On Wednesday, the Bruins gathered at TD Garden for their only practice before Game 1 of their second-round series against the Rangers Thursday.
Neither Dennis Seidenberg nor Andrew Ference practiced because of lower-body injuries. Wade Redden took a brief twirl, but left early in the session and did not return.
To open the second round, the Bruins could be without three left-shot defensemen with 274 combined games of playoff experience. They will look to Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, and Torey Krug.
Bartkowski has appeared in two playoff games. Hamilton has dressed for three. Krug has never appeared in an NHL postseason game. Krug was only recalled from Providence Tuesday.
“There’s injuries. There’s no hiding that fact,” coach Claude Julien said. “Sometimes you can get players through those. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes it’s better not to practice and just to play.
“We’re going to look at that situation. At the end of the day, my final roster will be decided before the game.”
The Bruins dispatched Toronto in seven games. They paid a price while doing so.
They could be down three defensemen against a New York club that likes the rough stuff. Captain Ryan Callahan, a punishing and relentless right wing, leads the charge. On the back end, Dan Girardi is the right-shot version of Zdeno Chara — a defense-first strongman who will square off against Milan Lucic.
To face the Rangers without Seidenberg, their rock-hard No. 2 defenseman, a second-pairing presence in Ference, and the veteran Redden will be a challenge. When the Bruins are healthy, Seidenberg and Chara have been their shutdown twosome. Ference and Johnny Boychuk are consistent second-pair defensemen. Redden has moved the puck efficiently while playing alongside Adam McQuaid.
Now, all three pairs are in flux. In Wednesday’s practice, Chara took shifts with Hamilton. Bartkowski and Boychuk saw time together. Krug and McQuaid were paired at times. Those could be the tandems in Game 1.
The three youngsters must apply their energy and sharp legs to make up for what the Bruins will be missing in experience and physical play.
“I don’t want them to feel the pressure,” Julien said. “I don’t want them to not be comfortable or have the ability to play as well as they can. It’s about encouraging them to do those kinds of things.
“We know our players well enough that we know what they’re capable of bringing. It’s about putting them in those positions to be able to play that way and bring that part of their game to the team.”
The Rangers have a middle-of-the-pack offense. During the regular season, they averaged 2.62 goals per game,15th in the league. They averaged 2.29 goals per game in their first-round series against Washington. Top-line center Derick Brassard led the Rangers with a 2-7—9 line in the opening round. Top gun Rick Nash didn’t score a goal.
But the Rangers roll four balanced lines that can wear out a defense. Their second line of Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, and Callahan boasts a blend of speed, skill, and power. The No. 3 line of Taylor Pyatt, Brian Boyle, and Derek Dorsett plays a straight-line game. Brad Richards, the team’s third-leading scorer in the regular season, has most recently centered the fourth line between Chris Kreider and Arron Asham.
They don’t have the explosiveness of Marian Gaborik, who scored a regular-season hat trick against the Bruins. But by trading Gaborik to Columbus, they acquired valuable depth in Brassard, Dorsett, and defenseman John Moore. The deeper lineup is a version that is closer to the 2011-12 club — hard hats included Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Mike Rupp — that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
“Their major parts of the team, their goaltending, is still intact,” Julien said. “They solidified what they needed to solidify around their core group with grit, determination, and physical presence.”
A worn-down blue line won’t just affect the Bruins’ approach in shutting down the New York offense. The Bruins create their offense from turnovers, speed in the neutral zone, and a strong forecheck.
Bartkowski, Hamilton, and Krug have shown stretches of puck-moving crispness. But the Bruins must be consistent with their transition game to generate chances against the stingy Rangers.
The difference-maker is goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Vezina Trophy finalist posted a 1.65 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage against the Capitals.
Lundqvist brushes aside first shots and turns would-be goals into routine saves. Where Toronto’s James Reimer struggled with his rebound control, Lundqvist makes clean saves and steers pucks out of danger areas.
The Rangers are equally oppressive in front of Lundqvist. Girardi and partner Ryan McDonagh will most likely be instructed to shut down Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton.
In the first round, Girardi and McDonagh helped keep Washington’s Alex Ovechkin to one goal and one assist. They are a no-nonsense duo. They play in-your-face defense, then transition rapidly with sharp outlet passes.
If Girardi and McDonagh blanket Krejci’s line, the Bruins will need secondary scoring from their second and third lines.
“They’re obviously a real good shutdown pair,” Lucic said. “Definitely in the tops of the league. You see what they were able to do in the last series against arguably the best player in the league this year. You know it’s going to be a battle.”
One of coach John Tortorella’s trademarks is his insistence on blocking shots. The Rangers blocked 161 shots in the first round, most of any playoff club. The Bruins must be patient at the points by walking the blue line, forcing movement by making D-to-D passes, and shooting wide of the net in search of caroms off the boards.
“You know he’s good enough to stop what he sees,” Julien said of Lundqvist. “They box out extremely well. So we’ve got to work hard to take away that vision that he needs in order to stop pucks.
“There’s going to be a lot of battles in this series. By the end of it, I think you’re going to have some exhausted teams.”