Bruins-Rangers preview: Survival mode

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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.

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."