Bruins, Rangers could be teams to beat

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Bruins, Rangers could be teams to beat

It will surprise absolutely nobody if the Bruins and Rangers end up squaring off for the chance to battle the best of the West for the Stanley Cup.

Both teams approach the game in similar ways: heavy, physical, blue collar approach with special attention to the defensive details and elite goaltending that backs everything up as the last line of defense. The Black and Gold and the Blueshirts have also started jumping up, up and away from the pack in the Eastern Conference as injuries have plagued the Penguins and Flyers.

Its no wonder there were bone-rattling hits, painful blocked shots, breathtaking saves, dozens of postgame ice bags and a potentially suspension-worthy play all wrapped into a playoff-style atmosphere in the Bs 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon.

We played greatyeah. We played a really solid game, said Tuukka Rask, who had a seven-game winning streak snapped in defeat before he snapped his goalie stick over the crossbar in defeated rage. I dont think either team had a lot of chances. I mean, theres 30 saves on both ends, but not really quality chances. Its always, against the Rangers, the same thing.

It could be a 12-round heavyweight bout between the two teams if they happen to meet each other in the postseason, but that seems a tad premature when the Bs and Blueshirts have three more regular season tilts on tap. The remaining regular season meetings should be good for both teams, good for the frothy fan bases and good for the league if the other three games live up to the bruising first edition.

For the Bruins it was the best way to bring them out of the New Years doldrums that had dogged them over the last few weeks. If the Bruins needed a splash of cold water to take up, then the last four periods against the Devils and Rangers have provided that wakeup call.

It was definitely our best game in the past couple of weeks and a great hockey game. Obviously both teams, I think, proved why were getting a lot of points and getting wins, said Andrew Ference, who supplied the potentially suspension-worthy hit with a charging call on Ryan McDonagh that earned him a five-minute major and game misconduct. Both play the game hard and have a lot of tools. Obviously they have a good goalie and a good system just like we do and enough talent to be difference makers.

The final score was appropriate given how closely these two teams in the sibling rivalry cities of Boston and New York have competed over the last four years. Saturday afternoons 3-2 final score was the 11th time in their last 13 games that the Bruins and Rangers battled to a one-goal game. The proximity of the final scores hammers home exactly how closely related these two hockey clubs are to each other, and the sliver of a difference between the two hardworking teams.

There have always been good battles between the Rangers and Bruins with Claude Julien and John Tortorella at the helms of the two teams, of course. But theyre finally on equal footing within the scope of the league as the Rags always seemed to be a year or two behind the Bruins on their development path. The Rangers have taken a step up with young players like Derek Stepan maturing and Brad Richards joining the fray as a franchise center, and those two teams have separated a bit from the rest of the pack in the East.

That separation comes with good reason as so many individual performances spelled out on the ice over nearly 65 minutes of superb hockey.

Its easy for a game to reek of that distinct playoff fragrance when the teams best players are bringing it, and Rangers captain Ryan Callahan was the epitome of that as the best player on the ice for either team.

Callahan finished with six shots on net, six registered hits, scored his teams first goal after jumping out of the penalty box and freely admitted afterward that BruinsRangers has become more than just a pedestrian date on the NHL schedule. This was appointment hockey for everyone involved.

It had a little bit extra feeling and little extra motivation. You know youre playing a team that is right behind you in the conference. The Bruins are obviously defending Stanley Cup Champions, too, said Callahan. The atmosphere in the room -- and the atmosphere on the ice -- was as close as you could get to a playoff feel this early in the season. I thought the guys stepped up well. We handled ourselves through the ups and downs of the game. It was a big game for us.

The game also effectively snapped the Bruins out of their recent malaise, and allowed them to keep building on the strong third period against the Devils Thursday night. The three periods of intense, focused hockey piggy-backed on the third period surge in New Jersey, and leave the Bruins primed and ready for a Sunday date with the Flyers.

Nobody was complaining of being disappointed with the results on the ice after the game was over, but Claude Julien made certain of it with a little extra zing following the sudden defeat.

It was a good game, couldve gone either way, and Im certainly not disappointed in our team. In our minds, we have to find a way to probably generate more offense, said Julien. This is a stingy team we played tonight. If we were going to score more goals, we really needed some grinding work in front of their net, and at times you saw it.

Anybody who doesnt think we played well tonight needs to reevaluate how he looks at the game of hockey because it was a great game played by both teams. Its certainly what this league is looking for.

Julien did forget one other thing: anybody who doesnt think the Bruins road to repeating as Stanley Cup champs doesnt go through Madison Square Garden is fooling themselves. The Rangers are for real this season, and they made another resounding statement to that effect with their overtime win over a game Bruins team in the NHLs marquee game this weekend.

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

The Bruins should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. They really shouldn’t. 

Yet they might. Pierre McGuire said on TSN Radio Tuesday that his guess is that Shattenkirk, arguably the best free agent defenseman on the market, will end up in Boston.

It is remarkable how universally against a Shattenkirk megadeal B’s fans have seemingly been. A Twitter poll with over 3,600 votes this month had Bruins fans preferring Boston sign 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to a two-year, $8 million extension than the 28-year-old  Shattenkirk to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal. 

That is obviously the correct conclusion, but considering how hard the false “Chara is old and bad” garbage is pushed in this town, it’s telling that 64 percent would rather he stick around than the team build the defense around Shattenkirk. 

Of course, Shattenkirk is not a bad player just because he’s been overrated in recent seasons. He’s a decent second-pairing defender and strong power play asset who can be penciled in for 40 points a year. The Bruins already have that in Torey Krug, and he makes less than Shattenkirk figures to command. Shattenkirk is also a righty who plays on the right, which is not a need for the Bruins, whereas Krug is a left shot who plays both sides. 

Add in the Bruins’ cap situation due to some bad contracts and they why of Shattenkirk would be a bad signing doesn’t need to be re-hashed. By this point, the explanation’s been given a few times in a few different places. 

So what would the Bruins’ actual case for signing Shattenkirk be? 

TO KEEP IT MOVING 

Last season was encouraging for Bruins fans because it saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in three years while also seeing young talent emerge. Yet they still only made the playoffs by two points, something of which Don Sweeney and Cam Neely are undoubtedly aware. 

So for all the good signs, this could be a fringe playoff team again if more improvements aren’t made, and missing the playoffs for the second time in three years would mark a step back in the eyes of ownership, perhaps putting jobs in danger. It would be a shame if money were spent irresponsibly for the sake of saving jobs, but Shattenkirk would definitely make the Bruins better next season, even if it crippled them financially down the road. 

TO PULL A CHIARELLIAN FREE AGENT SWITCHEROO

With McAvoy set to be a top-pairing player and Brandon Carlo a good second-pairing option, the Bruins do not have a need for a highly paid right-shot defender. That doesn’t mean they don’t have needs elsewhere. 

Last offseason, Peter Chiarelli made the controversial move of trading Taylor Hall, one of the best left wings on the planet. He did it to get Adam Larsson to help build Edmonton’s blue line up, then he went out and signed Milan Lucic in free agency to replace Hall. 

If the Bruins truly have designs on adding Shattenkirk, perhaps they could have something similar in mind: Trade someone like Carlo for either a left-shot defenseman or a left wing, then replace Carlo with Shattenkirk. 

This would still not be financially palatable, however. When the Oilers traded Hall for Larsson, they swapped a player with a $6 million cap hit for a player with a $4.16 million cap hit and replaced the original player (Hall) with a player in Lucic who carried a $6 million cap hit. So essentially they netted one player for an additional $4.16 million. 

Carlo is on his entry level contract, so unless the Bruins traded him for a player on an entry-level deal, they’d be spending a lot of money in any maneuver that involved replacing him with Shattenkirk. 

TO GO ALL-IN ON POST-CLAUDE LIFE

Claude Julien’s detractors lamented his affinity for responsibility. They loved it when Bruce Cassidy was more open to trading chances. 

Well, you like trading chances? Shattenkirk’s your guy. He’s a good skater, a good offensive player and a sub-par defender. You put Krug, Shattenkirk and McAvoy as three of your four top-four defenseman and you’ll be a long way from the days of Chara, Seidenberg and Boychuk, for better or worse. 

BUT, KEEP IN MIND . . . 

They for sure should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. 

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading, while wishing that Gordon Hayward and Paul George were already in Boston, like, yesterday.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Freidman gives his 30 thoughts for the week, including the trade value of a first-round pick right now.

*It could that non-unrestricted free agents steal all of the thunder on July 1 with massive contract extensions a la Connor McDavid.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has the Detroit Red Wings taking potential fliers on a number of veteran D-men that are out on the free market.

*With free agency right around the corner, the legendary Stan Fischler details the sad end to Bobby Orr’s career in Boston, where he was lied to about the offer extended to him and ended up playing things out with the Chicago Blackhawks in a way that it shouldn’t have gone. The sight of Orr in a Blackhawks sweater is one of the real all-time NHL oddities out there.

*The NCAA is eying college hockey expansion in NHL markets, including the University of Illinois and Pitt, and, from what I’ve been told, perhaps UNLV and maybe even Vanderbilt. This is a great thing for amateur hockey players and anybody that can’t get enough of the game.  

*Ex-Senators defenseman Marc Methot holds no ill will toward the Sens after being dealt from Vegas to the Dallas Stars following his selection in the expansion draft.

*Josh Ho-Sang shares his wisdom to Islanders prospects as a 21-year-old somebody that’s gone through the ups and downs of being in their shoes.

*As we referenced above, Connor McDavid is closing in on a massive contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers that will probably make him the highest paid player in the NHL.

*For something completely different: My heart goes out to this Roslindale family fighting through a situation with a child who has a life-threatening disorder. They have a Go-Fund-Me page, so please give if you can.