Bruins-Rangers preview: Last dance

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Bruins-Rangers preview: Last dance

BOSTON -- The Bruins will see an entirely different New York Rangers team on Tuesday night.

The Bruins handled the Rangers at TD Garden in their season-opener and then pushed the Rangers to overtime before eventually falling in the first game that John Tortorella put Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards together as a super forward line. But there was a nagging feeling that the Bs hadnt seen the best that the Blueshirts had to offer as so many of their players looked rusty coming out of the lockout.

Now the Bruins feel like theyll get New York's best effort, and thats quite a bit from a talented crew that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season.

We realize that when we last saw the Rangers it was earlier in the season and now were a quarter of the way through the season, said Daniel Paille. It seems like theyre finding their game. Theyve played well in the last few games that Ive watched, and things are going to be a lot harder in this game than they were the last time we saw them.

Henrik Lundqvist looks like hes back on his goaltending game, and the Rangers have won three of their last four games while outscoring their opponents by a 14-7 margin during those four contests.

The Rangers have finally found some opportunistic scoring and solid play from some newly-formed bottom six lines after the departures of guys like Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedetenko. Part of that discovery was in the benching of Brian Boyle, who drew plenty of ire from Tortorella to begin this season after failing to fill in for some of the players that had exited New York.

Boston has built themselves a great cushion after their first 10 games, but there seems to be a strong resolve to refuse letting up in a shortened NHL schedule.

There are certain teams in our conference that really test your character, said Claude Julien. Both teams are pretty big teams, both teams like to work along the walls and both teams like the gritty game. Its about competing hard.

It certainly makes you a better team at the end of the night if youre ready to take that challenge the proper way.

Amazingly this will be the last time the Bruins and Rangers face each other in the regular season, but theres still a very nagging suspicion that Bostons road through the playoffs will wind through Madison Square Garden at some point.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Dougie Hamilton is scoreless in his last five games with a minus-2 rating and it was the 19-year-old rookies miscues in the defensive zone that led to Buffalos only goal on Sunday night. Hamilton has still been solid and largely mistake-free while averaging close to 19 minutes of ice time per game, but theres been a definite lull to his game over the last few weeks. Its to be expected, but Hamilton could use a nice, little breakout performance on the power play or in the offensive zone.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Were going to have to play strong against them. Theyre going to be a big, physical team that plays well defensively and theyre hard to score against. As long as we stay strong and compete to stay physical it should be a good game for us. Daniel Paille on what it will take to win the season series against the Rangers in their third meeting of the season.

KEY MATCHUP: It appears that the Bruins are going to place Tyler Seguin back with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the second line, and that will be the line the New York Rangers will be most concerned with based on Marchands team-leading six goals this season. That means Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will get plenty of duty against the Bruins forward line, and could open up the Milan LucicDavid KrejciNathan Horton trio for a big game after being reunited once again. One thing the Bruins need to be wary of is the increased scoring the Rangers are getting from their bottom two forward lines now that theyve begun to gel.

STAT TO WATCH: 4 That's the number of goals surrendered in the third period by the Bruins in 10 games this season, and all four of those came in their only regulation loss to the Sabres.

INJURIES: New York defensemen Michael Sauer hasn't played since December 2011 for the Rangers due to a concussion,

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask is well-rested after playing in a game last Wednesday night against the Canadiens, and coming off one of his best games of the season when he shut out Montreal early while the Bruins were getting outplayed. Rask is 1-0-1 with a 2.51 goals against average and a .907 save percentage against the Blueshirts this season. After a slow start to the season when he didnt look ready to play, Lundqvist has allowed just one goal in his last two games while heating up at the same time as the Rangers skaters around him. King Henrik is close to respectability again with a 2.44 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

Haggerty: Bruins putting a lot of their hopes in one roster fix

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Haggerty: Bruins putting a lot of their hopes in one roster fix

The improvement plan has become as clear as it’s going to be for the Bruins this offseason.

With Bruins general manager Don Sweeney locking up Kevan Miller to a four-year, $10 million deal this week and vowing to sign Torey Krug as well, the Bruins defensemen corps is going to look awfully similar to last season’s misbegotten group.

Almost identical, it would seem.

Sure, Sweeney said on Wednesday that the Bruins are actively seeking out “a transitional defenseman” that’s presumably a little better than 35-year-old journeyman John-Michael Liles, and can be paired with Zdeno Chara as a top duo for next season. It’s the No. 1 priority on the Bruins offseason shopping list just as it was last season once they shipped Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for draft picks and were instead saddled with a fearsome, crippling black hole at the top of their organizational D-man charts.

The trade market has been set to a degree by the Erik Gudbranson trade from the Florida Panthers to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night with Jim Benning giving up a Grade-A center prospect in Jared McCann, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in exchange for the 24-year-old top-four defenseman. Per a hockey source with knowledge of the situation, the Bruins were not involved in any talks for the towering Gudbranso. It sounded like the Panthers and Canucks were pretty locked in with each other on making a deal.

That’s an unfortunate product of Boston not being able to match up with the available center prospect that might have interested Florida and having dealt some of those 2016 draft picks on fruitless deadline rental deals for Lee Stempniak and Liles.

So, how difficult will it be to land Kevin Shattenkirk, or Jacob Trouba, or Sami Vatanen, or Tyson Barrie, or any other mobile blueliner able to play big minutes, move pucks and survive against the other team’s best offensive players while being sheltered defensively by Zdeno Chara?

“Time will tell on that one, you know? Either through free agency or through acquisition, it’s a matter of finding a trading partner or finding a match in the marketplace. We’re going to be aggressive,” said Sweeney. “We certainly have identified, we had our pro meetings … I’m not going to give my whole plan out to you today. But we have areas that we want to address in the depth of our organization more likely in the forward position, either on the right wing or the center, or again on the backend. We’re exploring a bunch of different things trade-wise. It’s difficult in this league, but I think that we’re in the position with two first-round picks to be either selecting really good players or to be in the marketplace.”

The Bruins had better hope it’s a miracle-working puck-mover that they bring to Boston because otherwise they are on course for bringing back the same old sorry usual suspects from last season. Miller and Adam McQuaid will be taking up a combined $5.25 million on the salary cap, Krug will have a salary in the range of $5 million per season after watching the B’s largesse in the Miller deal and both Chara and Seidenberg will trudge on as proud, aging warriors well on the back end of their careers after outstanding service in Boston.

That means many defenders, including Joe Morrow and Colin Miller, return. Defense was the clear weakness on the team, which finished 19th in the NHL after being in the bottom third of the league pretty much all season. It was inarguably the worst defensive group of Claude Julien’s 10-year tenure with the Bruins and had major difficulties in all areas ranging from tape-to-tape passes, to coverage breakdowns and good, old-fashioned lost battles in all of the danger areas.

So, with the plan to add one high-caliber “transitional defenseman” already laid out, it’s clear the B’s belief is that will be enough to substantially improve things on the ice.

At least that’s the theory before the bullets start flying next season and Sweeney gave a few perfunctory lines about the team improving in every area.  

“This is a results-oriented business, so we have to get better in areas. We have to improve our roster. I’ve said all along that we need to continue to improve our roster. We’ll be in the marketplace in every different way, shape, or form to try and acquire players that will continue to help us do so,” said Sweeney. “Talking with Claude and going over the time he spent with Butch [Cassidy], through my dealings with Butch, and realizing the development of a lot of the players that have been a part of our roster and success is the transition game and stuff that Butch has brought to the table.

“[It’s] how he saw the game, how he expects players to play and move pucks and work on it every day, is an area that I think he’s going to be an addition to our [coaching] staff and how he sees the game. I think I identified that if Butch was playing in this day and age now, he’d be a very welcome addition to our roster.”

So that’s the plan, folks. The big move of the summer is getting a defenseman they badly need, filling in a few roster spots, signing a good deal of their own players and then hoping for a better result next time around.

Isn’t there some kind of line about insanity and expecting different results with the same cast of characters year in and year out? 

 

Thursday, May 26: Will going with Fleury haunt Penguins?

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Thursday, May 26: Will going with Fleury haunt Penguins?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while still laughing at the #TeamFrich movement.

*Dave Lozo says that the decision by Mike Sullivan to play Marc-Andre Fleury could still come back to haunt the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Miracle on Ice goaltender Jim Craig marvels at the evolution of USA Hockey from the Miracle days to the current system that just keeps on producing top talent.

*Mike from Woburn hates the Kevan Miller contract almost as much as I do.

*Speaking of the Kevin Miller deal, here’s a scenario where the big overpay for Miller might help them land another talented young player.

*In other hockey news, the Vancouver Canucks landed legitimate top-4 defenseman Erik Gudbranson while the ink was drying on the Kevan Miller contract.

*Chris Phillips is expected to announce his retirement from the Ottawa Senators after a long career in Ottawa as a defensive warrior.

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough says some tough decisions await the St. Louis Blues after dropping the conference finals to the San Jose Sharks.

*The San Jose media has decreed that it was worth spending a first-round pick for Martin Jones after he helped carry them to the Cup Final. For the Bruins it means that their first round pick will be No. 29 or No. 30 in the first round, so whoop-de-do for that.

*For something completely different: 21 scientists say that Tom Brady is right and the NFL is wrong about Deflategate.