Haggerty: Bruins-Rangers a statement game

Haggerty: Bruins-Rangers a statement game
April 1, 2012, 5:11 pm
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UNIONDALE, NY If any team has had the Bruins number over the last three years, it is the New York Rangers and their All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

The Blueshirts have captured all three meetings against the Bruins this season and won nine of the last 11 meetings with the reigning Stanley Cup champs.

There is nobody else in either conference that has dominated the Bs quite like the hard-charging Rangers have.

When the top two teams in the Eastern Conference play Sunday night at Madison Square Garden a statement will be made by these two rugged hockey teams who could meet each other in the Eastern Conference Finals this spring.

The Rangers have essentially been No. 1 all season, and theyre looking to prove their readiness for a long, bountiful playoff journey after some early exits over the last few seasons.

The Bruins just want a little respect.

Boston played well in their last trip to Madison Square Garden a fight-filled grudge match between the two rivals in the East that also featured some pretty good hockey from the Bs after falling behind by a 2-0 score.

But in the end Lundqvist once again outplayed Thomas, and the Rangers won, 4-3. After the game, Thomas jokingly faulted the yellowish stage lighting for his inability to see the puck.

The Bruins are looking for a different result in this final regular season clash with the Rangers. It would be meaningful to prove they can beat Lundqvist and the Rangers in their backyard if push comes to shove in the playoffs.

Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan have all given Boston their share of challenges over the last couple of years during battles with New York, but its Lundqvist and the strong, leak-proof New York defense that provides the biggest threat to Bs effectiveness.

Lundqvist is now 19-5-2 with a 1.51 goals against average, a .948 save percentage and six shutouts in 26 games against the Bruins, and is on the tip of every Boston players tongue when they are asked to name the NHLs best goaltender.

In short, King Henrik is in Bostons head a little bit. They need to get him out before a potential seven-game series this spring.

The plan is pretty simple on the Bruins end, and it involves equal parts courage and determination. Zdeno Chara has seven points in his last four games and David Krejci has three multi-point games in a row so the Bruins offense is finally hitting Gotham feeling good about themselves. They need to find a way to turn Charas big shot and the traffic in front of the net into offense against the Rangers.

Theres no doubting hes an excellent goaltender and hes had some very good games against us. There is a challenge there for us to go out and have success against him and the Rangers, said Chris Kelly. But it always comes back to the same things against good goaltender -- making them move around and getting plenty of good traffic moving in front of them. Even the best goalies cant stop what they cant see.

Its the perfect time for Boston to face their New York nemesis as theyve gone 6-1-1 in their last eight games. They finally seem in perfect playoff pitch after faltering through .500 hockey for more than two months. Boston could even have the Northeast Division all wrapped up by the time their game gets going if the Ottawa Senators fall to the New York Islanders on Sunday afternoon.

If not, the Bruins will have double the motivation against the Rangers knowing a win would make a long-ranging statement and lock them into one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference. But for a team thats suffered through one-goal games in 16 of the last 20 meetings between the Bruins and the Rangers, more than anything else the Bruins are looking for a gritty, playoff-style match against a Blueshirts team that normally matches them in the work-ethic department.

I think its a great test for both the team and for me as were getting ready for the playoffs. These are the kinds of games we need to play to make sure were ready, said Tyler Seguin. We havent done the greatest against them. Hopefully we can show them what we can bring just in case we meet them a couple of weeks from now in the playoffs as well.

With four games left the Rangers game will represent the last big push by the Bruins before they start resting some of their key players, and give Tim Thomas a little down time prior to an expected long postseason run.

The Bs need to show they have one last big punch in them on a Sunday night prime time exchange with the Rangers. Then it will be all about the postseason for the Bruins, who have been waiting all year for this time of the season to arrive.