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.