NHL playoffs: Marchand leads Bruins to OT victory over Rangers in Game 1

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After struggling against Toronto, Boston's Brad Marchand finally broke through against New York. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Brad Marchand finally broke through after being held to three assists in the seven-game series against the Leafs. (Charles Krupa/AP)

By Sarah Kwak

Less than five minutes remained in the first overtime of Game 1 and the Bruins were outplaying and completely outshooting the Rangers with almost goal after almost goal. It was clear the Bruins were due for an actual goal any second. And for the last two weeks, their Little Ball of Hate has been due, too.

Brad Marchand, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, was kept muzzled through the first round, picking up only three assists in the seven-game series against the Maple Leafs. But in the closing minutes of overtime against the Rangers, with the score knotted at 2-2, Marchand tipped in a beautiful feed from Patrice Bergeron to win Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals for Boston. The pesky yet diminutive winger did it by powering through the even more diminutive Mats Zuccarello (5-foot-7, 174 pounds), who is probably the only NHLer Marchand (5-9, 183 pounds) could realistically muscle off.

In the fight between these two big, burly and tough hockey teams, the battle between two flyweights decided it. Figures.

Here are some more observations from the Bruins' 3-2 Game 1 win:

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• The Rangers' top defensive pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh had done such an effective job of shutting down Alex Ovechkin and Co. in the first round that New York coach John Tortorella decided to split them up. It's because Boston brings a more balanced and diverse attack, one that extends beyond one man, that the Rangers can't afford to load up and isolate their shutdown defensemen on a single line. The Bruins don't have a game-breaker like Ovechkin, so the Rangers won't play them the same way. And the new pairings worked very well against Boston in Game 1. Girardi paired with Michael Del Zotto, who has more of an offensive feel to his game, while McDonagh took most of his shifts with Anton Stralman.

• The exciting part of New York's revised pairings is that they were not only effective defensively for most of the game, but they created offense as well. McDonagh scored the Rangers' first goal with just 1.3 seconds left in the first when a weak clearing attempt by Boston's Tyler Seguin left the defenseman with an open point shot that got by Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. In the opening minute of the second, Girardi had a quick and smart first pass out of the zone that set up a fast break for the Rangers' speedy second line to score.

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• Speaking of defense, the Bruins had to do without three veteran blueliners for Game 1. Andrew Ference, Wade Redden and Dennis Seidenberg are all sidelined with injuries, forcing Boston coach Claude Julien to put his trust into three rookies: Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski. That could have been a point of concern, but the youngsters melded seamlessly into the lineup. Part of that is due to the Bruins' farm team in Providence playing a similar system and style to the parent club, making it easy to make the transition, even in this pressure-packed scenario. And what they might lack in defensive sense (as compared to the veterans they're replacing), they more than make up for in offensive upside. Krug scored an equalizing goal in the second off a feed from Hamilton, who also threw five shots on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

• Before the puck dropped, the talk of the series was about New York's love affair with blocking shots. Against Washington, the Rangers blocked 161. Coming into Thursday's game, they declared they'd do the same against Boston and their bazooka-blasting defensemen. And while they did stand in front of 29 shots in Game 1, they also let a surprising number of shots from the point go through. Zdeno Chara, who has one of the heaviest and hardest shots in the league, was allowed to get nine shots to Lundqvist. Hamilton had five and Johnny Boychuk got five, not including the two posts he rang late in the game. Especially in overtime, when the Rangers were out shot 16-5, those shots were creating loads of chances for the Bruins. In OT, the Bruins defense owned half their shots.