Bruins-Rangers preview: Survival mode

560192.jpg

Bruins-Rangers preview: Survival mode

Three weeks ago the Bruins hoped to make a statement against the Rangers at home. This afternoon they will be merely trying to survive the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden.

The Bruins have now gone seven weeks and 23 games without winning consecutive decisions, and they've watched the Rangers zoom to the top of the Eastern Conference, all but wrapping up the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.

Its been a difficult road for the Black and Gold, to be sure, with injuries knocking them down over the last two months. Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley are both still out with no hope of returning anytime soon. Andrew Ference (lower body), Tuukka Rask (lower body) and Daniel Paille (upper body) have all suffered injuries over the last two games with varying degrees of severity.

The Rangers have had their share of injuries and adversity as well, but they have seemed to get healthier and more confident as the season has rolled on. Theyre 4-1-2 in their last seven games and never let their foot off the gas pedal during the dog days of February.

For New York to get Marc Staal back just before the NHL Winter Classic was a huge boost to an already talented defensemen corps, and the trade deadline edition of John Scott gives them a stable of rough-hewn enforcers to rival the Big Bad Bruins.

In many ways the Bruins and Rangers are cut from the same blue collar cloth: hard-working with elite goaltending, excellent leadership and an opportunistic offense.

Familiar as they may be with the Rangers' style, the Bruins have a unique challenge on their hands Sunday.

This is a heavy schedule for us," Bruins coach Claude Julien said on Saturday. "Were going into our fourth game tomorrow against a really good team in the Rangers. Four games in six nights. Were going to be challenged again in all areas. Weve just got to suck it up and battle through it.

Just look at the stats: The Bruins are 7-11-4 against the Rags over the last five years while developing into one of the NHLs best franchises. The Rangers hold a slight 36-29 scoring edge over their last 19 games, and an amazing 15 out of those 19 contests have been one-goal games with six of them decided in overtime or shootout.

Plenty of that has to do with the elite goaltending, which is also the reason the Bruins havent scored more than three goals against the Rangers since a Jan. 20, 2004 win prior to the NHL lockout.

That was obviously before the Henrik Lundqvist era on Broadway. King Henrik has lorded over the Bruins with an 18-5-2 record to go along with a .950 save percentage and a 1.45 goals against average in 25 career games against the Black and Gold. Nearly every player in the Bs dressing room quickly rattles off Lundqvist as the toughest goalie to face in the NHL. It doesn't help that the Bruins offense has been shut out five times in their last 15 games.

Were playing a great team in New York, so were aware whats going on. Theyre first in the standings, said Patrice Bergeron. For us its about going out there and playing our game and making sure it happens. Its two huge points and theyre a great team. We have to match that intensity, that physicality, and play our game."

It would seem that another tight-checking, blue collar tilt against the Blueshirts may be exactly what the Bruins need to get back on track with little more than a month left to fine tune before the postseason.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Mike Hutchinson has never played an NHL game and has a grand total of 46 games of AHL experience, but with Tuukka Rask going down to injury, the 22-year-old is being asked to fill in as primary backup to 37-year-old Tim Thomas. The 2008 third-round pick has had some good moments at Bruins development camps and during preseason games, but its a tall order for a youngster getting dropped into a pressure-filled situation. The Bruins have eight games in the next 13 days, including a host of back-to-back games. They'll need Hutchinson to perform at an NHL level if they hope to avoid burning out Tim Thomas before his rapidly-approaching 38th birthday.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: There are 19 games left so weve got to figure it out sooner than later. Time definitely is running out to get on a roll, but in saying that there still is time. Its up to us to figure it out. We definitely know that we have the bodies and guys in here to do it. Milan Lucic talking about the elusive winning streak the Bruins have been searching for over the last seven weeks.

KEY MATCHUP: Zdeno Chara, Joe Corvo, Johnny Boychuk, Brian Rolston and any other point shooters for the Bruins have their marching orders: Find a way around the Rangers shot-blocking defensemen. Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto are all big-bodied blueliners willing to throw themselves in front of pucks, and theyre backed up by equally fearless forwards like Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle. The Rangers are third in the NHL with 537 blocked shots. Theyve been particularly adept at frustrating the Bs this season. They need to find a way around -- or through -- New Yorks tall trees.

STAT TO WATCH: 6 That's the number of shutouts for Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in 25 dominant career appearances against the Bruins.

INJURIES: Rich Peverley (right knee sprain) and Nathan Horton (mild concussion) are out for the Bruins, and both Andrew Ference (lower body) and Tuukka Rask (left leg) are also out. Daniel Paille (upper body) also exited Saturdays loss to the Isles in the third period and appears to be a question mark for Sundays game against the Rangers.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tim Thomas will get the nod against the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist. It's a match-up of the reigning Vezina Trophy winner against the goalie most likely to claim that award this season. After some struggles in January, Thomas has been better as of late, and has a .927 save percentage in his last six games. Lundqvist has owned the Bruins throughout his career and this season is no different. Hes 18-5-2 in 25 career games against the Bruins with a .950 save percentage and 1.45 goals against average. King Henrik indeed.

Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension

patriots-brady-100715.jpg

Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension

Is the Patriots roster so loaded that Tom Brady can be suspended for four games, and they're still the favorites to win it all? 

Apparently so, according to odds released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Not long after the completion of this year's draft, the Patriots were favored at 6-1 to win their fifth Lombardi Trophy even though their quarterback is scheduled to miss the first month of the season after his Deflategate punishment was recently reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Brady plans to appeal that ruling. 

Next on the list of favorites are the Seahawks, Steelers and Packers, all of whom are tied at 8-1. The Panthers, who fell in Super Bowl 50 to the Broncos, have 9-1 odds to redeem themselves after last season's defeat and walk away winners. 

The Patriots are, of course, favored to win the AFC (3-1) and the AFC East (4-9), and their season win total projection has been set at 10.5.

Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?

praisebrissett503_1280x720_678827587973.jpg

Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?

Three mid-week thoughts for your perusal . . . 

-- I was 100 percent behind the drafting of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. And then I read comments about the kid from Charlie Weis and Bill Parcells in Karen Guregian's excellent story in the Boston Herald on Tuesday.

Now I'm down to about 80 percent.

"He's a Curtis Martin-, Willie McGinest-, Troy Brown-type of player,'' said Parcells. "That's the kind of guy he is. That's what New England is getting. Those kind, those Tedy Bruschi types, those players who've been successful -- he's very similar in his personal life to those kinds of guys.''

"Let me tell you,'' added Weis, "this kid, from the time he was in high school, is the Pied Piper . . . He was definitely the leader of the pack. In the quarterback position, I think that's a critical factor. And that's what he was.''

Added Parcells: "He has zero personal issues.''

So why would glowing reports cause me to like the pick less? File under: Too good to be true.

I read those quotes and get the feeling I'm being sold something, which shakes my confidence a bit. Plus, it's a little too much on the intangible element. Character is certainly important at the position. In fact, it's crucial. But if intangibles were the only thing that mattered, Tim Tebow would have been an NFL QB. And we all know how that turned out.

Bottom line: I still like the pick. I still want the Pats drafting and developing quarterbacks. I just smell a bit of bull crap.

-- Chris Mannix nailed it regarding what it would take for the Celtics to lure Kevin Durant to Boston.

"Boston's ability to lure him is going to come down to who else they can get. You can't walk into a meeting with Kevin Durant and say, 'We've got Isiah Thomas and 97 draft picks; we're going to be good in a few years','' he told Toucher and Rich Tuesday morning. "Kevin doesn't want to hear that . . . What he wants to hear is that we're ready to win now . . . They have to come to the table with a Jimmy Butler, with a Bradley Beal, with an Al Horford. They can't just come with Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge and a bunch of draft picks.''

In other words, the pieces on the current roster aren't nearly as good as they looked in the regular season. And, no, Thomas is not a franchise player. And, finally, don't get too attached to those picks, no matter where the ping pong balls land.

-- I wonder if the Bruins look at the current landscape in net across the NHL playoffs and consider how wise it is to pay their goalie, Tuukka Rask, $7 million a year.

Still alive are guys like the Islanders' Thomas Greiss ($1.5 million cap hit), the Blues' Brian Ellliott ($2.5 million), the Sharks' Martin Jones ($3 million) and Penguins rookie Matt Murray ($620,000). Out are 8 of the top 10 highest-paid goalies in the league, a list including Henri Lundqvist, Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Ryan Miller and, of course, Rask.

Please note: No one is saying you can get away with shoddy goaltending in the playoffs. It's an unassailable fact that you need elite play in net to contend for Stanley Cups. The question is what you have to pay for it. 

And in that regard, this year is no aberration. Sometimes you have to pay through the nose for it, and sometimes it just falls in your lap.

Can the Bruins get away with trying to survive in that second camp? Good question. This much I know: Paying Rask $7 million a year to miss the playoffs two straight years isn't doing anyone any good.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN.