Haggerty: Bruins simply aren't the better team right now

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Haggerty: Bruins simply aren't the better team right now

BOSTON -- There have been a handful of teams that have jostled for Beast of the East status over the first five months of the season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers had their moments early on before injuries begin picking away at their Cup-caliber rosters. The Florida Panthers even had a few moments of glory before reality set in.

The Bruins dominated November and December, when they ran roughshod over anyone in their way and made a claim as the best team in the NHL.

But the New York Rangers are on top of the heap now, having made a definitive statement with two road victories over the Bruins in the last three weeks.

The second of those two wins came Tuesday night, when noted Bs killer Henrik Lundqvist made 42 saves and his teammates blocked 22 more shots -- leading to plenty of ice bags in the visiting dressing room -- in a 3-0 win. The Rangers now have a nine-point lead in the Eastern Conference over the Bruins, who dropped to a mediocre 6-7-1 over their last 14 games.

Bruins coach Claude Julien seemed to recognize the hunger he saw from the Blueshirts on Tuesday night. It's the same one he's seen in the eyes of the Bruins, but that he isn't finding these days.

Theyre playing well, like we did last year when we were playing well, which is whats happening right now, said Julien with a wistful look in his eye. They grind you down, and they dont give you much. Whenever you give them an opportunity, they pounce on it. Right now thats kind of the identity were looking for again.

When the Bruins are on top of their game, the outcome's decided if they get ahead by two goals. And that's exactly what happened Tuesday night, only in reverse. The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first period and then clamped down on Boston's offense, stacking bodies in front of Lundqvist and forcing the Bruins to labor to simply get shots off from the point.

When Bruin attackers did manage to get behind the big-bodied defense corps and fearless shot-blocking forwards like Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle, Lundqvist once again proved to be the Bs daddy. King Henrik is 18-5-2 with six shutouts against the Bruins over his career, and he was at his best Tuesday night.

That looked like a good team that we just played tonight, said Tim Thomas, who allowed three goals on 22 shots in the loss. Just the overall way that they played together and . . . you know . . . theyre playing good defense with a good goaltender.

The defense and elite goaltending effectively frustrated the Bruins at their own game, and lured the Bs into the kind of gaffes they normally capitalize on. For a player who prides himself on playing that style, it was frustrating for Zdeno Chara to watch his team fall to a more effective version of themselves.

Theres a reason why the Rangers are where they are. At the same time, I thought that we didnt play our best, as well in either game, said Chara, referring to the 3-2 overtime loss three weeks ago to the Rangers. But I think that they deserve to be where theyre at."

Where they are is on top of the hill, playing some of their best hockey of the season. The Bruins have lost their bragging rights as the class of the East, despite their Stanley Cup pedigree, until further notice.

"We havent seen all the teams in the Western Conference, but theres no doubt right now the Rangers are playing the best," said Julien. "They play hard."They play hard, they play clean, they don't don't budge an inch and they're incredibly hard to play against. The Rangers are also seemingly at the top of their game in the middle of the season with four tough months ahead. All of that sounds like a hockey team people are used towatchingaround these parts, doesn't it?

Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

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Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

FOXBORO -- What could have been an awkward plane ride for Tom Brady and John Harbaugh was made less so thanks to a high school lacrosse player. 

Brady and Harbaugh shared a private plane back from Michigan where Jim Harbaugh and his University of Michigan program put on an event for National Signing Day. About a year earlier, Brady told a room full of reporters that Harbaugh and his coaching staff should study the rule book and "figure it out" after hearing that they were pretty upset about the unusual formations the Patriots ran during their AFC Divisional Round win over Baltimore. 

They may not have been on the best of terms.

"I was pissed off," he told ESPN's Ian O'Connor before the start of this season. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed. ... So yeah, that should never have been said."

But on the flight was Harbaugh's daughter Alison, a high school lacrosse player. When Brady took some time to share a few thoughts on competitiveness with her, he and Harbaugh found common ground.

"We had a lot of fun," Harbaugh said of the flight. "I don't know if he's talked about that at all, but we ended up sharing a plane ride along with my daughter and a couple of his people, friends of his. We just had a chance to just talk for a couple hours. And really more than anything, Alison got a chance to listen to Tom Brady talk about competing and what it takes to be great at what you do.

"And one of the funny things about it was, he was so nice to her. He gets off and they go, and we get back on the plane and we're talking, and she says something like, 'Boy, Tom really is a nice guy.' And I look at here and go, 'Tom?' I'm thinking 'Mr. Brady' would have been more appropriate. She said, 'He said to call me Tom.' I got a kick out of that.

"It was good. Lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for what he's accomplished. He's very tough to compete against. The best quarterback that's played, certainly in this era, without question in my mind. That's how I would rank him. And it's just another tough challenge to have to play against him."

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan didn't get a chance to answer one question in his postgame interview before being interrupted by Kyle Lowry, Jared Sullinger, and LeGarrette Blount.