Bruins looking for statement game vs. Rangers

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Bruins looking for statement game vs. Rangers

The Bruins have experienced plenty of statement games already this season with mixed results. Some have been wildly successful and others have been anti-climactic. Theyve got another on tap with the New York Rangers coming to town for their second Boston invasion on the last three weeks.

The Bruins were able to topple the Flyers and Penguins on the road when each team was leading the Eastern Conference earlier this year, but the Rangers have run away with the East down the stretch. The Blueshirts quietly matched the Bruins win-for-win during their hot stretch in November and December, and have kept right on winning as the Bs have tailed off into a .500 hockey club since early January.

The Bruins have dropped big home games to the Vancouver Canucks and these very-same Rangers on the TD Garden ice over the last six weeks, so now is the time to file some of the so-called statement games back into the home win ledger.

Theres no better test than the top team in the East right now, said Milan Lucic, simply and correctly. Weve come up short in a couple of these big games and marquee match-ups at home lately, so hopefully we can find a way to win one before we head out on the road.

In many ways the Bruins and Rangers are cut from the same roughly-hewn cloth: blue collar at their core with elite goaltending, excellent leadership and an opportunistic offense that jumps all over mistakes from their opponents. That presents the Bruins with a unique challenge against a hockey club thats consistently been their most difficult regular season opponent over the last five years.

Everybody knows who the Rangers are, how good they are and what they represent, said Claude Julien. I dont think thats necessarily an issue. Were a team that likes to put the focus on ourselves rather than who were playing or how good theyre playing.We need to look at ourselves because thats what has given us the most success in all the years that Ive been here.I think thats where we have to be right now. Nashville was a really good team coming in last weekend and all of our focus was on how well we were going to play. I think we need to do the same thing against the Rangers. We understand what New Yorks strengths are and you bring that to the attention of the team. But its really about how good and how hard are we going to execute the game plan.

Just look at the stats: the Bruins are 7-10-4 against the Rags over the last five years while building into one of the NHLs best franchises.

The Rangers hold a slight 33-29 scoring edge over their last 18 games, but an amazing 15 out of those 18 contests have been one-goal games with six of them decided in overtime or the shootout.

Plenty of that has to do with the elite goaltending at both ends of the ice, and thats also the reason the Bruins havent scored more than three goals against the Rangers since a Jan. 20, 2004 win.

That was obviously before the Henrik Lundqvist era on Broadway, which has been a truly stingy time for the Black and Gold. To put the offensively bereft BostonNew York rivalry into further perspective, the last time the Bruins put up a four-spot or more against the Rags Carl Corazzini, Jiri Slegr and Andrew Raycroft were the three stars of the game. A whole new generation of Bs followers probably doesnt even realize that all three were wearing Bruins sweaters on that day eight years ago. That is truly Old Time Bruins Hockey.

It seems like since Ive been here there have been a lot of 1-0 games and 2-1 games against the Rangers. I think 3-2 is the highest scoring game since Ive been here, said Lucic. They play a really stingy style. They play committed to their game plan. Theyre blocking shots and theyre being physical.

They do all the little things really well and I think thats what has given them a lot of success this season. Were going to have a find a way to battle through their defensive layers and push that pace like we did in the last game. Theyre a complete team and Lundqvist really makes them a complete team.

Theres more to Tuesday nights game beyond making a statement against the Rangers, however. Its about putting together two straight hard-working, solid performances over a 60-minute span against quality opponents rather than the fits and starts that have plagued the Bs over a six-week stretch. Shades of mediocrity have hung with the Stanley Cup champs since an emotional loss to the Vancouver Canucks in early January.

It would seem that another tight-checking, blue collar tilt against the Blueshirts will be exactly what the Bruins need to set them on the righteous hockey path with only two months left to fine tune before the postseason.

Curran: Ravens are the Patriots' most bitter rival

Curran: Ravens are the Patriots' most bitter rival

Who has been the Patriots' greatest rival of the Belichick-Brady Era?

There are a few candidates: There's no franchise the team hates more thoroughly than the Jets. The Steelers, just because of franchise tradition, are in the mix but the Patriots have had their way in most of the big games with Pittsburgh. The Colts? It's kind of a big brother-little brother thing. The Broncos? Definitely. But no opponent has provided the gripping games and the mix of animosity and respect that the Ravens have over the past decade. 

The first truly memorable Ravens-Patriots game came in 2007. Brian Billick was in his final season as Ravens head coach and Baltimore -- with Kyle Boller at quarterback -- was on its way to a 5-11 season. But that Monday night epic against the unbeaten Patriots was one of the most gripping games of the Belichick era with the Patriots erasing a 24-17 deficit in the final eight minutes thanks to a Ravens meltdown that included defensive coordinator Rex Ryan calling costly timeouts and Ravens players throwing penalty flags. The Patriots won, 27-24, on a touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left. It was probably the hardest the Patriots were pushed en route to 16-0.

Since then, there was the never-to-be-forgotten 33-14 2009 playoff rout at Gillette, which was probably the low point of the Belichick Era. That was followed by a pair of 23-20 Patriots wins before -- the second of those being a stirring AFC Championship win in the 2011 playoffs when Sterling Moore’s pass breakup and a hooked field goal attempt sent the Ravens home whining. But the Ravens broke Gronk in that game and -- with him hobbling around in the Super Bowl against the Giants -- they came up short, 21-17.

Early in 2012, again in prime time, the Patriots let leads of 13-0 and 30-21 slip away as the Ravens won 31-30 on a 27-yard Justin Tucker field goal at the buzzer. It was the Replacement Ref Game, the nadir of the horrific stretch of time in which we got an eyeful of how bad officiating can really be (thanks, Rog!).

The two teams saw each other again in the 2012 AFC Championship and the Patriots saw a 13-7 halftime lead evaporate in a hail of Joe Flacco throws to Anquan Boldin as the Patriots got out-toughed in a 28-13 loss. Late in 2013, the Patriots gave the Ravens a tremendous 41-7 beating in Baltimore to usher the Ravens out of playoff contention. It was the best win of the year for New England.

And the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff win for New England was one of the best playoff wins of Belichick Era. The Patriots twice erased 14-point deficits to win 35-31 at Gillette. The Ravens made a public show of complaining about the Patriots formation trickery and saying they’d take it up with the league. Tom Brady chastised the Ravens for not knowing the rules and Ravens coach John Harbaugh -- who’s got a haughty streak in him to say the least -- made sure the rule got changed then spent 2015 running trick formation plays recreationally.

More damaging was the private maneuvering of the Ravens.

Their coaching staff -- specifically special teams coach Jerry Rosburg -- was dropping dimes to the Indianapolis Colts, encouraging Indy to be on alert for football shenanigans, alleging the Patriots monkeyed with the K-ball usage. Harbaugh initially denied any involvement in the mess that ensued after the Colts alerted the league to that concern and the purported deflating of footballs which was “well known around the league.” After it was demonstrated that the Ravens had communicated with the Colts, Harbaugh and the Ravens released a statement trying to establish distance. 

As much as Baltimore wants to maintain its distance, the communication with Indy and the fact that “independent investigator” Ted Wells interviewed both Rosburg and Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees during the DeflateGate investigation shows that the Ravens weren’t just minding their own business in this whole thing.

This will be the first time the teams meet since all that went down and it will be interesting to hear this week if there’s any latent bitterness on the part of the Patriots who -- despite the on-field rivalry -- had a strong relationship with Baltimore at the ownership level with Steve Bisciotti, at the personnel level with Ozzie Newsome and George Kokinis and with the coaching staff. Bill Belichick recommended Harbaugh to Bisciotti for the Ravens head job in 2008.

The surging Ravens have won four of five. They’re 7-5 and leading the AFC North. And -- unlike other teams that traditionally melt under the lights in New England -- the Ravens relish the chance to play the Patriots.

"We have to go up into a hostile place in New England that we really enjoy playing [at]," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It's going to be another important game in December up there on a Monday night, and it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it, big time."

“Now we’ve got our toughest challenge and we’ll need to play our best football up in New England to win that football game,” said Harbaugh. “We believe we’ll have a chance to do that based on where we are right now. … They’ve got great players, a great organization and they’re always at the top and they’ve earned it. We’ve been honored to be in some big games with them over the years and that’s a place we want to be.”

Blakely: Celtics not as feared as they were last season

Blakely: Celtics not as feared as they were last season

BOSTON -- On more than one occasion Monday night, the Boston Celtics were a discombobulated bunch with some players thinking they were running one play, while others were thinking the play called was something totally different.
 
You see that stuff in the preseason and to a certain extent in the regular season for a lot of teams. It is in those moments that we’re reminded that this Boston Celtics team is a work in progress on so many levels.
 
Because of that, we all need to hit the pause button when talking about them as a team inching closer towards Eastern Conference supremacy.
 
After the first month of the season, they have yet to show that they are going to be better than last season’s 48-win ball club.
 
The big problem a year ago was the offense bogging down and for the most part, not making shots. This year, it’s the team’s defense that has let them down on many nights.
 
And with that comes a sobering reminder this crew is good, but at best are maybe top-five in the East.
 
As a team on the rise, beating teams you’re not supposed to has to happen with some semblance of regularity.
 
There were only three teams on the Celtics’ docket this season thus far that they should have been beaten by without there being any argument: Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland.
 
They were beaten in all three, two of which (Golden State and Cleveland) had final scores that did not indicate the level of dominance they had over the Celtics.
 
The average margin of defeat in the three games was 9.3 points, but two of them (San Antonio and Golden State) were at the TD Garden, which is supposed to be the equalizer for upset-minded teams.
 
But in each game, Boston put up a decent fight only to fail to emerge victorious.
 
The struggles against the upper echelon teams of the NBA has nothing to do with not having a superstar or a great rebounder or any of the kazillion reasons/excuses offered up as to why they’re not better.
 
It’s hunger.
 
It’s effort.
 
It’s about being blinded by the internet clicks that tout them as one of the best teams in the East, and them not seeing the danger that comes with embracing all that patting on the back.
 
It makes you soft.
 
It makes you fat and happy.
 
And maybe most significant, it creates a false sense of arrival before you’ve left the tarmac.
 
That’s where the Boston Celtics are right now: a team that seems to have forgotten why they were the team nobody wanted to play last year.
 
It wasn’t that teams feared playing them. It was the fact that they knew playing the Celtics would be tough, and it would force them to play a lot closer to their full potential than they were used to if they wanted to win.
 
It was because everyone knew that to beat the Celtics, you don’t have a choice but to play hard because you damn well knew they would.
 
Not anymore.
 
They bring that toughness to the game in small doses, like an intra-venous drip full of hope and promise, providing just enough to life to keep their fans optimistic but not nearly enough to kill the noise of their haters and critics.
 
And while the season is still young, the Celtics need to start racking up some quality wins.
 
Right now, their most impressive win is a toss-up between beating Charlotte 104-98 on Oct. 29, or a 94-92 win at Detroit on Nov. 19.
 
Boston plays at Orlando on Wednesday, a team that’s likely to be back in the lottery again. But after that, they travel back to Boston where they’ll host Toronto -- a game that they desperately need to not only to pad their win total but also provide a much-needed boost of energy and confidence going forward.

The Celtics have to find that hunger, that collective desire that we’ve seen in the past which has propelled them to greater heights than we’ve seen thus far.
 
Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford… you can go down the roster and the mission for all of them has to be the same: play harder, for longer, and be smarter about it, because this team has too much collective talent to be just three games above .500.
 
At 12-9, Boston is third in the East and trail conference-leading Cleveland by three games for the best record in the conference. But then you look at the teams behind the Celtics and realize that they’re only two games out of having the ninth-best record in the East.
 
It speaks in part to the season still being in its infancy stage. But it’s also telling as to how Boston does not have a huge margin of error when it comes to losing winnable games.
 
And as we’ve seen thus far, the Celtics can play with any team in the NBA and hold their own.
 
But beating them is a totally different narrative that this squad has yet to write.