Haggerty: It was a season of success for Bruins

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Haggerty: It was a season of success for Bruins

NEW YORK Its amazing how much things can change in a year.

Almost exactly 365 days ago, the Bruins held a tense team meeting in the bowels of Madison Square Garden after collapsing in the third period against the New York Rangers. They warned each other that an early playoff exit awaited them if they didnt get their act together.

Clearly they heeded the warning provided by that ugly loss, and a Stanley Cup was theirs after triumphantly coming out on the other side of the NHL fire.

Fast forward to Sunday night. The Bs had perhaps their finest win of the season, a gritty, 2-1, playoff-style triumph over the Eastern Conference champion Rangers at their MSG home. Not only did the victory give the Black and Gold their first victory over the Rangers in six tries, but it also clinched both the Northeast Division and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

In many ways it was the perfect ending to a season of ups and downs, and gave the Bruins the perfect booster shot headed into the postseason. They are 7-1-1 in their last nine games, theyve accomplished everything that was even remotely possible heading into the All-Star break, and theyre now able to rest, recharge and refocus with three games remaining until their postseason run begins anew.

Its indeed amazing how much things can change in a year.

We wanted to prove to them we werent a pushover team just in case we meet them later on down the road in the playoffs, said Tim Thomas, happily wearing a Division Champs hat atop his head as he spoke of the playoff message sent to the Blueshirts. This is a tough building to play in. Its dark. There are funny bounces all over the place. Plus theyre a good team; they play solid hockey.

Anytime you can come in here and get a win to wrap up the division, its a good thing. Theoretically we had plenty of time to get the extra two points, but why wait? We had a chance to seal it up and take all of the hope out of Ottawas sails. It felt good to be able to do that.

So great that Thomas once again couldnt resist taking a shot at the Madison Square Garden stage lighting.

The Bruins did allow 19 shots in the final period as the Rangers threw everything they had at the net in a desperate attempt to send the game into overtime, but Boston's stabilized defense had held New York to 15 shots in the first two periods.

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin had recorded just a single assist and a minus-9 in the first three games against the Rangers this season, but they were on the ice for both of Boston's goals.

Thomas had been 2-6-1 in MSG over the course of his career, and clearly doesnt enjoy playing in the yellowish theatre lighting provided for the storied arena. But he made 19 saves in the final 20 minutes and seemed to have the Rangers shaking their heads by the end of the game. Essentially, everyone who needed to step up did just that, and thats what the playoffs will be all about.

Instead it was New York rushing to get shots off at the Boston net while trailing in a one-goal game and furiously trying to climb uphill a state the Bruins were very familiar with during the months of January and February.

Those mediocre middle months seem like a distant memory as the Bruins finish out their final three dress rehearsals, and get ready for the real season to commence.

Weve started playing really consistent hockey and that has us feeling good, said Dennis Seidenberg, who looked healthy after missing two games with an infected cut in his leg and scored the Bs first goal. It was really a wait-and-see game against the Rangers, waiting to see which team would crack first. That was our goal tonight: to get a win in the regular season, so we could send a message if we meet up with them in the playoffs. It felt good to get that.

There was a slight celebratory feel in the Bs postgame dressing room, but its not that a guy like Thomas was really looking forward to a divisional banner ceremony next season.

Did we win the division last year? said a quizzical Thomas. That answers your question: I definitely dont even remember that one going up.

Thats because the Bruins are no longer about Adams Division or Northeast Division banners these days.

Instead theyre about raising the Stanley Cup over their heads, or considering a thoroughly enjoyable regular season as a failure if its anything less. The Bruins had a warm, fuzzy feeling as they exited Madison Square Garden on Sunday having accomplished all of their regular season goals once the Presidents Trophy was far out of reach.

But the Bruins arent about warm, fuzzy regular-season feelings these days. Its amazing how things change in a year: its Stanley Cup or bust for a Bruins team that has nothing else to prove in the regular season.

Red Wings' Vanek, Nielsen score in 6-5 SO win over Bruins

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Red Wings' Vanek, Nielsen score in 6-5 SO win over Bruins

DETROIT - Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings.

No late-game heroics for Celtics as they lose to Knicks, 117-106

No late-game heroics for Celtics as they lose to Knicks, 117-106

BOSTON – Lately, shots seemed to fall for just about every player the Boston Celtics put on the floor. You knew sooner or later, Boston would have one of those nights when those same shots wouldn’t fall.

And then there’s the New York Knicks at the opposite end of that spectrum, a team that was overdue for a good night of basketball after having lost 11 of their previous 13 games.

Both worlds collided on Wednesday night, resulting in a 117-106 loss for the Celtics.

Not even the usual late-game scoring heroics of Isaiah Thomas could save the Celtics this time. He led all scorers with 39 points but only eight came in the fourth.  

Trailing 88-83 going into the fourth quarter, Boston (26-16) had been within striking distance on a number of occasions earlier in the night, only to have the Knicks (19-24) rebuff them with a made basket, or a rebound or a rebound that led to a made basket.

It was that kind of game for the Celtics, seemingly playing uphill most of the night.

No player exhibited Boston’s struggles more than Al Horford.

The four-time All-Star had arguably his worst game as a Celtic, scoring just five points while missing 12 of his 14 field goal attempts.  

Even though Boston spent most of the game trailing, it was hard to not think the Celtics would do what we’ve seen them do time and time again of late and that’s find a way to win in the fourth quarter.

After all, the fourth quarter has been good to the Celtics – especially Isaiah Thomas.

He leads the NBA in fourth quarter points at 10.1 per game, the kind of fourth quarter scoring the league has never seen before.

But Thomas never found any kind of late-game rhythm, a similar experience felt by most of his teammates.

It wasn’t just bad shooting that ultimately sunk the Celtics.

Rebounding, which has been a problem for them all season, was a major factor in Wednesday’s outcome as well.

For the game, New York out-rebounded Boston 57-33. Many of those boards were on the offensive glass which was a major factor in the Knicks holding a 24-12 advantage on second-chance points.

And as impressive as Thomas has been in elevating his game in the fourth quarter this season, the Knicks were being led by an equally determined Derrick Rose.

The former league MVP looked like his old self instead of just old, dribble-driving his way in and out of the paint, raising up for stop-on-the-dime jumpers. He would finish with a team-high 30 points.

The Celtics led 34-31 after the first quarter, but spent most of the night afterwards playing catchup to a New York Knicks team that came in having lost 11 of its previous 13 games.

NOTE

Both Boston and New York were missing key players with a sore Achilles injury. For the Celtics, they were without Avery Bradley (right Achilles) and the Knicks were missing Kristaps Porzingis (left Achilles).