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.

Bradley on return to Celtics lineup: 'I wish I played a little bit more'

Bradley on return to Celtics lineup: 'I wish I played a little bit more'

BOSTON – Before Monday’s 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley talked about how hard it was going to be for both him and head coach Brad Stevens to accept his minutes restriction.

The 6-foot-2 guard, returning to the lineup after missing 18 straight games with a right Achilles injury, logged just under 15 minutes (14:58) on Monday while scoring six points on 2-for-4 shooting as well as tallying a game-high three steals.

“I wish I played a little bit more,” Bradley said following the game. “But it felt good to be out there.”

Stevens had similar thoughts on Bradley’s limited return.

“Both Avery and I, we were both like, maybe five more minutes or six more minutes,” Stevens said. “But the plan going in was to play him through that first half, hopefully two good stints, about 15 minutes, and then increase that piece by piece over the next few games.”

Despite the long layoff, Bradley looked very much like the Avery Bradley that was playing at a near All-Star level prior to the injury.

You figure even with the long lay-off, Bradley’s defense was going to be close to where it was earlier this season.

But the fact that he was able to quickly get into a nice shooting rhythm – he made his first shot attempt – was indeed a pleasant surprise to him.

“I’ve been able to just get shots up and I was a little nervous to see how it was going to translate in the game,” Bradley said. “But I felt comfortable out there. I just tried to focus on defense and I told myself if I focus on defense I’ll make shots on the offensive end.”

Prior to the injury, Bradley was averaging 17.7 points per game which was second on the team, along with a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game.

With his minutes being limited for at least this first week, there’s no telling how long it will take for Bradley to start posting those numbers again.

But Monday was a great first step in the right direction for a player whose talents will be essential for the Celtics to have the kind of finish to the regular season that they want going into the playoffs.

While building up towards being at the top of his game is certainly a goal Bradley has for himself, patience, trusting the rehabilitation process while maxing out his production with a small window of playing time, are all keys to his recovery.

“I wish it was split up or something in the second half but it is what it is,” said Bradley, referring to his playing time being limited to 15 or so minutes now. “I just have to go out there, no matter how many minutes I get, and play as hard as I can. That has to be my mindset.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas 'not worried' about end of scoring streak

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas 'not worried' about end of scoring streak

BOSTON – You knew sooner or later, Isaiah Thomas’ impressive scoring streak of games with 20 or more points had to come to an end.

That time was Monday night as Thomas had 19 points in Boston’s 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

While the Hawks certainly played well defensively against Thomas and the rest of the Celtics, the 5-foot-9 guard is quick to acknowledge that the Hawks didn’t all of a sudden come up with a game plan that can shut him down.

“They didn’t do anything special,” said Thomas after missing 17 of his 21 shot attempts. “I just missed a lot of shots in the paint that I usually make. I got to where I wanted to, but that wasn’t just me it was our team. We missed a lot of shots that we usually make and you got to tip your hat off to the Atlanta Hawks.”

In doing so, Thomas’ franchise-record streak of consecutive games with 20 or more points now stands at 43.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens saw first-hand how his players – including Thomas – missed a lot of shots they usually make.

But limiting Boston offensively always starts with how you defend Thomas.

“They were really aggressive on him,” Stevens said. “They were really tough on him. They bodied him up, they were physical, they had a bunch of different guys on him at different times, they were very active off of the screens.”

And as far as his streak of games with at least 20 points, Thomas said he’s not disappointed that it has come to an end.

“I’ll break it again,” he said. “I’m not worried about it, I’ll break it.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday’s game which ended with a 114-98 Celtics loss to Atlanta.

 

STARS

Dennis Schroder

He was arguably the biggest difference-maker on the floor Monday night. In addition to doing an exceptional job defending Isaiah Thomas, he also led the Hawks with 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting with four rebounds and five assists.

Dwight Howard

His ejection aside, Howard’s presence around the rim at both ends of the floor caused major problems for Boston. He finished with a double-double of 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting along with 12 rebounds and two blocked shots.

Isaiah Thomas

The Hawks did about as good a job as we’ve seen any team at defending Thomas who still managed to lead the Celtics in scoring with 19 points on 4-for-21 shooting. For a minute there, he seemed to be flirting with a quadruple-double. In addition to his 19 points, he also had seven rebounds, seven assists and seven turnovers.

 

STUDS

Jaylen Brown

His play was one of the few positives for Boston. He came off the bench to score 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting to go with five rebounds.

Taurean Prince

Only Paul Millsap logged more minutes on Monday than Prince whose defense and rebounding were huge. He had a near double-double of eight points and 12 rebounds.

 

DUDS

Celtics’ rebounding

This could be a dud for Boston almost every game, but they were worse than usual on Monday night. Atlanta had a 55-40 advantage on the boards which contributed to them dominating points in the paint (60-34), second-chance points (20-11) and fast-break points (15-7) which was fueled by rebounds followed by quick outlet passes to players in transition.