Bruins-Rangers preview: Last dance

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Bruins-Rangers preview: Last dance

BOSTON -- The Bruins will see an entirely different New York Rangers team on Tuesday night.

The Bruins handled the Rangers at TD Garden in their season-opener and then pushed the Rangers to overtime before eventually falling in the first game that John Tortorella put Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards together as a super forward line. But there was a nagging feeling that the Bs hadnt seen the best that the Blueshirts had to offer as so many of their players looked rusty coming out of the lockout.

Now the Bruins feel like theyll get New York's best effort, and thats quite a bit from a talented crew that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season.

We realize that when we last saw the Rangers it was earlier in the season and now were a quarter of the way through the season, said Daniel Paille. It seems like theyre finding their game. Theyve played well in the last few games that Ive watched, and things are going to be a lot harder in this game than they were the last time we saw them.

Henrik Lundqvist looks like hes back on his goaltending game, and the Rangers have won three of their last four games while outscoring their opponents by a 14-7 margin during those four contests.

The Rangers have finally found some opportunistic scoring and solid play from some newly-formed bottom six lines after the departures of guys like Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedetenko. Part of that discovery was in the benching of Brian Boyle, who drew plenty of ire from Tortorella to begin this season after failing to fill in for some of the players that had exited New York.

Boston has built themselves a great cushion after their first 10 games, but there seems to be a strong resolve to refuse letting up in a shortened NHL schedule.

There are certain teams in our conference that really test your character, said Claude Julien. Both teams are pretty big teams, both teams like to work along the walls and both teams like the gritty game. Its about competing hard.

It certainly makes you a better team at the end of the night if youre ready to take that challenge the proper way.

Amazingly this will be the last time the Bruins and Rangers face each other in the regular season, but theres still a very nagging suspicion that Bostons road through the playoffs will wind through Madison Square Garden at some point.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Dougie Hamilton is scoreless in his last five games with a minus-2 rating and it was the 19-year-old rookies miscues in the defensive zone that led to Buffalos only goal on Sunday night. Hamilton has still been solid and largely mistake-free while averaging close to 19 minutes of ice time per game, but theres been a definite lull to his game over the last few weeks. Its to be expected, but Hamilton could use a nice, little breakout performance on the power play or in the offensive zone.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Were going to have to play strong against them. Theyre going to be a big, physical team that plays well defensively and theyre hard to score against. As long as we stay strong and compete to stay physical it should be a good game for us. Daniel Paille on what it will take to win the season series against the Rangers in their third meeting of the season.

KEY MATCHUP: It appears that the Bruins are going to place Tyler Seguin back with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the second line, and that will be the line the New York Rangers will be most concerned with based on Marchands team-leading six goals this season. That means Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will get plenty of duty against the Bruins forward line, and could open up the Milan LucicDavid KrejciNathan Horton trio for a big game after being reunited once again. One thing the Bruins need to be wary of is the increased scoring the Rangers are getting from their bottom two forward lines now that theyve begun to gel.

STAT TO WATCH: 4 That's the number of goals surrendered in the third period by the Bruins in 10 games this season, and all four of those came in their only regulation loss to the Sabres.

INJURIES: New York defensemen Michael Sauer hasn't played since December 2011 for the Rangers due to a concussion,

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask is well-rested after playing in a game last Wednesday night against the Canadiens, and coming off one of his best games of the season when he shut out Montreal early while the Bruins were getting outplayed. Rask is 1-0-1 with a 2.51 goals against average and a .907 save percentage against the Blueshirts this season. After a slow start to the season when he didnt look ready to play, Lundqvist has allowed just one goal in his last two games while heating up at the same time as the Rangers skaters around him. King Henrik is close to respectability again with a 2.44 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

The NHL trade deadline is now less than a week away, with plenty of movement expected despite the perpetual lack of sellers, and an expansion draft perhaps preventing some teams from taking on players they will then need to protect. 

The Bruins shouldn’t be much of a seller as long as they can continue their current good stretch for three more games before the March 1 deadline. The expansion draft shouldn’t be much of a scare either based on the players {Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Malcolm Subban) they might be in danger of losing to the Vegas Golden Knights this summer.

With the Bruins currently outside of a playoff spot by virtue of the one game in hand held by the Florida Panthers (both teams have 66 points vying for the final wild-card spot), it would be no surprise if GM Don Sweeney wanted to be a buyer at the deadline for a Boston roster that could use a big top-six winger with finishing ability, a top-four defenseman that can move the puck and a backup goaltender should Anton Khudobin have any more struggles this season.

The Bruins and Avalanche had been talking steadily in recent weeks about a possible deal for 24-year-old left wing Gabriel Landeskog, but those discussions have hit a standstill with Sweeney refusing to part with either Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy in the trade package. That's the 100 percent right move for a Bruins team that shouldn't start trading away blue chip D-man prospects. 

Landeskog has made sense for the Black and Gold because he’s signed long term with a reasonable $5.7 million cap hit, and because he’d theoretically be a good, power forward fit alongside David Krejci.

It’s that type of trade Sweeney and the Bruins are looking to make for a young player with term that will be part of the long-term solution in Boston. They aren’t looking for a repeat of last season where they shipped off good future assets in exchange for pedestrian rental players Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles and missed the playoffs anyway after dipping into the trade market.

In other words, Sweeney doesn’t sound all that keen in dipping heavily into the rental market, for a Patrick Eaves or a Dmitry Kulikov for instance, as he did a year ago.  

“Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there’s no question this group has a chance to get in. Whether or not I can find a player between now and the deadline that sort of fills all those gaps, that does remain to be seen,” said Sweeney at the time of the Claude Julien firing, prior to the current four-game winning streak. 

“But I think it dovetails with the fact that I’m not going to be short-sighted. I’m going to stick to the longer term view as to what I have put in place with the intention of being able to bridge and bringing in players like David Backes and surround our guys that we get a chance to win now and be competitive now.

“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer-term. Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt in the same regard that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental. I’m not going to deviate from what I said. Are there players and we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”

Some of that may change after a current four-game winning streak with a Bruins team that looks much more playoff-worthy than the aimless group that struggled through the first 55 games. But it would have to be the perfect rental at the right price for it to make sense for the Bruins this time around and chances are that might not materialize for a team just looking to hang in there until McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Zach Senyshyn are ready to contribute a couple of years down the road.

So, would people be okay if Sweeney and the Bruins stand pat at the trade deadline if they can’t swing a big hockey deal for a young player like Landeskog who would be part of the long-term plan? Is it acceptable to just let it ride with the current group that has suddenly shown a different gear under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and bet on the core group rising to the occasion like they didn’t the last couple of years under Julien?

The answer from this humble hockey writer is that Sweeney should pass on anything less than a home run deal for the Black and Gold. The worst thing the Bruins GM could do is get in the way of the momentum that’s naturally starting to roll with his team, or make another severe misstep with his NHL talent evaluation. Right now, draft and development seem to be his strengths, and he should lean into those and away from being a wheeler dealer with wiser, more experienced managers around the NHL looking to once again rob the Black and Gold blind.

So, there’s a chance the Bruins do very little at the deadline and, after thinking about it, the fickle fans should be perfectly okay with that as they watch a newly transformed hockey club. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready for the February heat wave headed our way.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did on Tuesday talking Bruins with former Hartford Whalers great and current outstanding TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro, who is also a great FOH (Friend of Haggs).

*Good piece on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster that has already gained plenty of internet plaudits for his great, and now legendary, Nick Bonino goal call in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

*It’s never too early to look at this summer’s crop of NHL draft-eligible players. Right, Kevin Allen?

*Apparently Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has his own rap song, so he’s got that going for him…which is nice.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has James Wisniewski trying to revive his NHL career after a short stint in the KHL.

*There’s a call for Nashville backup Juuse Saros to get more playing time between the pipes for the Predators.

*Larry Brooks brings his always interesting take to the Bruins situation in allowing Claude Julien to take the head gig in Montreal, and said it all came down to money. Big surprise there. I think there was also a concern from the B’s about having another PR nightmare on their hands if it was perceived that they stepped in and didn’t allow Julien to gain employment someplace else, regardless of what waited for him in the offseason. It also tells me that the Bruins aren’t afraid of Julien coaching their arch-rivals, which makes perfect sense since they just fired him.

*For something completely different: the image of Woody Harrelson in the Falcon cockpit is both jarring and super awesome.