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Bruins-Rangers preview: Into the unknown

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Bruins-Rangers preview: Into the unknown

Lets be honest: nobody quite knows what to expect with Saturday nights puck drop between the Bruins and Rangers.

After missing the first four months of the NHL season due to the lockout and dropping players at varying conditioning levels right into a training camp that didnt even last a single week, there will be pockets of ragged hockey. It will start off fast, furious and intense and will probably devolve into mental gaffes, lazy penalties and labored shifts as the game wears on into the third period.

The Bruins might have a leg up on other teams after watching 12 players skate in Europe tops among the 30 NHL teams but both the Bs and the Rangers should be in the same boat as regular season play begins. Both Eastern Conference titans will be looking to make a statement, but theyll also be plenty of curiosity about what each team has out on the ice.

Were no different than any other team. You cross your fingers a little bit and hope that theres as much cohesion and sharpness as you can have at this time, and you hope you have more than the other team just like any other night in the regular season, said Bruins coach Claude Julien. Right now were starting at the same exact point after being locked out for months and then having a six-day training camp.

We just need to keep the game simple. Its the same when you come back from an injury or youre coming back for a new season. There are a lot of guys that arent 100 percent as far as having their hands, stick-handling or skating, so dont overcomplicate things and making it more difficult than it needs to be.

Keeping it simple will be doubly important for rookies like Dougie Hamilton and new team additions like Rick Nash in their first go-rounds with new hockey clubs, but that will be easier said than done once the bodies start bumping and the puck starts flying.

It might not always be pretty in the early going and it will be a stiff challenge for some players unprepared to begin games with NHL intensity, but it will be NHL hockey finally back at TD Garden.

That should be good enough for everybody.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Milan Lucic faced plenty of tough questions in training camp after opting to stay away from the ice for long periods of times during the four-month NHL lockout. The Bruins power forward also was one of several Bruins players that looked a couple of steps behind in Tuesday nights scrimmage against the Providence Bruins. That is a difficult beginning for a big-bodied forward that typically is a slow starter in training camp to begin with, and puts some curious eyes on No. 17 to see where hes at. Lucic could quiet all of the questions by coming out and scoring a goal or two in the first game against the Rangers, and maybe even throwing fists with Mike Rupp to bring the house down.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Its more a matter of being able to perform at a high level and being able to maintain it for 60 minutes. That is going to be a challenge in and of itself. You may see tonight that in the third period rather than getting better it gets worsewho knows? Is fatigue going to set in and are guys going to be smart enough to get off early enough to keep themselves fresh? These are all things that the guys need to realize.

KEY MATCHUP: Rick Nash will be skating with Brad Richards and speedy Carl Hagelin, so that most likely means that Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk will out against them with Claude Julien holding the last change. It should be a titanic battle between the brawny 6-foot-4 Nash in his first game with the Rangers and Chara playing with an edge after playing in the skill-heavy KHL over the last four months. The 6-foot-9 inch Bs captain is clearly looking to hit somebody, and that should fit in well with a game that will be played at a frenetic pace to start out. The expectation is that it will take a while for a guy like Nash to get used to playing with new teammates in John Tortorellas demanding system, but theres also little doubt hell be looking to make a splash in his debut.

STAT TO WATCH: 14 the number of games between the Bruins and Rangers out of the last 17 that have been one-goal decisions in tightly contested battles over the last five years.

INJURIES: Marc Savard (concussion) isnt expected to play this season. Arron Asham is serving out a suspension for the New York Rangers earned during the playoffs last season.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask is just taking over for Tim Thomas, but has faced the Rangers in his fair share of games over the years because his Bruins goaltending partner didnt enjoy playing under the different theatre lighting at Madison Square Garden. So Rask is 2-3-1 with a 1.83 goals against average and .939 save percentage in six matchups against the Blueshirts over the years. Meanwhile Henrik Lundqvist is simply dominating the Bruins like no other goaltender in the league, and is now 19-6-2 with a 1.53 goals against average, a .947 save percentage and six shutouts in 27 games against the Bruins.

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.