Bruins take down Rangers, 3-1

985701.jpg

Bruins take down Rangers, 3-1

BOSTON -- The Bruins opened the shortened season with a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday night at the TD Garden.

Tuukka Rask made 20 saves in his first game without Tim Thomas in the equation, while Boston was able to put 34 shots on goal and beat Henrik Lundqvist three times.

The Bruins saw their first goal of the season with 5:46 left in the first period, as Milan Lucic -- who was later ejected in the third period because of a game misconduct -- put home a juicy rebound in the slot as he skated hard to the net. Lundqvist kicked out a David Krejci shot from the right boards, and Lucic beat a Rangers defenseman to the loose puck and put it into the open net for the 1-0 lead.

Daniel Paille gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead midway through the second period, after he re-directed a Greg Campbell snap shot from the right boards. Paille was cutting in front of the net and got a piece of the puck that just snuck by Lundqvist.

The Rangers cut the lead to 2-1 when Brad Richards beat Rask upstairs with a wrist shot from the right point. Richards was originally trying to send a pass through the slot, down to Rick Nash, but Patrice Bergeron blocked that attempt. The puck came right back out to Richards, who quickly wristed it past a screened Rask, with 7:10 left in the second period.

Patrice Bergeron gave the B's a 3-1 lead midway through the third period after he ever-so-slightly knocked down a high Johnny Boychuk shot from the right point. Boychuk took a clean Bergeron faceoff win and let it go. Boychuk was actually credited with the goal, but it looked to have been tipped by Bergeron before getting under Lundqvist's glove and in the net.

GOLD STAR: Milan Lucic didnt want to dwell on it too much, but it was clear that No. 17 was highly motivated by the many people questioning whether his conditioning was up to par to start the season. The Bruins power forward scored the first goal of the game to get things rolling for the Black and Gold, and was a consistent physical presence for the Bs while doling out a team-high four hits. The snarl in Lucics game was evident when he get onto a fracas with Mike Rupp and Ryan McDonagh with less than six minutes to go in the third period, and was bounced from the game with a 10-minute misconduct when he ignored officials directing him to get off the ice. The Bruins can only hope that Lucic plays with that kind of an edge all season.

BLACK EYE: Where was the big Rangers debut from Rick Nash that everybody was talking about? He finished with two shots on net and picked up an assist on Brad Richards second period goal, but he was really a non-factor in the proceedings with Zdeno Chara draped all over him. The only time he got the better of the 6-foot-9 defensive stopper was when he was able to draw a hooking penalty on Chara while driving straight to the net. There wasnt nearly enough NorthSouth play out of Nash against the Bruins on Saturday night, however, and the franchise power forward is going to find himself answering a lot more questions now than he ever would have in Columbus after such an underwhelming showing.

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron put together a typical game for the Selke Trophy winner: a team-high five shots on net, a face-off win and screen on Johnny Boychuks insurance goal in the third period and won 12-of-17 draws in typical machine-like fashion. Bergeron also gets the hockey tough award for the night after taking a puck in the face during the first few minutes of the game, and not missing a shift despite a nice little gash around his mouth following the game. Bergeron finished second only to Chris Kelly among Bs forwards with his 17:48 of ice time.

TURNING POINT: The Rangers looked like they were gathering a foothold when Brad Richards snapped home a shot from the high slot to make it a 2-1 game in the second period. But thats when the Bs energy line got involved and wrestled back the momentum. Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves and bloodied Mike Rupp and then Gregory Campbell took down Stu Bickel on the next two face-offs, and then the pumped Bs teammates responded with five dominant shifts to win back the momentum. The sequence just goes to show how vital a fully functional fourth line is to the Bruins fate this season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0-for-7 the Bruins impressed with their five-on-five play and their penalty kill, but some things dont change and they finished fruitless on the man advantage.

QUOTE TO NOTE: I give credit to the guys, obviously the guys that went over to Europe and played were playing at a high level and doing a good job. But I give credit to the guys who didnt. I think a lot of guys out there tonight didnt look out of place and I thought the game was good, professional. The guys were acting like professionals even during the frustrating time of not playing amid the lockout. Andrew Ference on not being able to tell the difference between players that went to Europe or those that skated at home during the lockout.

Joe Haggerty contributed portions of this column.

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

There will be some that will absolutely crucify the Bruins for losing Colin Miller in Wednesday night’s expansion draft, and rail against an asset that was lost for nothing. Those people will also miss the absolutely essential point that the whole raison d’etre for an expansion draft is to remove assets from each of the 30 NHL teams, and do it without a cost for the benefit of the new franchise opening up shop in Las Vegas.

It could have been much worse for the Black and Gold as some teams were shipping first round picks to Vegas to shelter their own players from expansion selection, and other teams were losing essential players like James Neal, Marc Methot and David Perron from their respective rosters. The B’s didn’t entertain overpaying simply to avoid losing a useful player, and clearly, they did lose a talented, still undeveloped player in the 24-year-old Miller, who now may be flipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a side deal with Vegas.

But let’s be honest here. A whole lot of people are vastly overestimating a player in Miller that’s long on tools and very short on putting them together, and they’re also vastly underestimating Kevan Miller. The younger Miller can skate like the wind and has a bazooka of a shot when he winds up and fires his clapper at the net.

But despite those clear offensive talents, Colin had the same number of points as stay-at-home defenseman Kevan this season despite the bigger, stronger and older Miller playing three less games this season. Kevan also had more goals (five) and more points (18) than Colin did two years ago in his rookie season for Boston.

This isn’t to say that Colin doesn’t have more discernible offensive skill than Kevan when it comes to moving the puck or creating offense. He does, but all that talent hasn’t manifested into real points, real offense or anything else for the Black and Gold over the last couple of seasons. At a certain point, a prospect like Colin needs to put all the tools together into production on the ice if he wants to become the sum of his hockey parts, and that hasn’t happened in two full seasons in Boston.

Instead, Miller continues to struggle with decision-making with the puck, consistency and finding ways to turn the quality skating and shot package into any kind of playmaking on the ice. Miller had his challenges defensively and he was never going to be the most physical guy on the ice, but those could have been overlooked if he was lighting it up in the offensive zone on a regular basis.

Plain and simple that wasn’t happening, and over the last season 20-year-old Brandon Carlo and 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy passed Miller on the organizational depth chart for right shot defenseman, and either Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller would slot in as the third pairing D-man on the right side. It’s clear at this point that Colin Miller needs more time and patience if he’s ever going to develop as a late-blooming defenseman at the NHL level, and he wasn’t going to get those opportunities to develop in Boston.

So how good can Colin Miller really be if he was about to get buried on a Boston defensive depth chart without much hope of being in the starting six every night unless he was able to magically transform himself into a top-4 guy on the left side?

Clearly, there is risk here as Miller could move on to Toronto, develop into the player that posted 19 goals and 52 points in the AHL a couple of seasons ago and torment the Bruins for the next five-plus years. It would become another arrow in the quiver of those critics looking to hammer GM Don Sweeney and President Cam Neely at every turn, and it would generate massive “Why can’t we get players like that?” homages to the legendary Bob Lobel all across New England.    

But there’s just as good a chance that Kevan Miller will still be throwing hits and soaking up heavy minutes of ice time for the Bruins three years down the road, and that Colin Miller will be out of the league after never harnessing together his considerable talent. Perhaps Sweeney could have been better about securing an asset for Miller ahead of the expansion draft if he knew he was going to lose that player for nothing to Vegas.

The bottom line is that the Bruins were going to lose somebody to Las Vegas in the expansion draft, and the Golden Knights weren’t going to do them any favors by taking on misfit toys like Jimmy Hayes, Malcolm Subban or Matt Beleskey. They did instead lose a player with plenty of raw talent in Colin Miller, but it’s not exactly somebody that’s going to be missed in Boston once Carlo and McAvoy start showing just how bright the B’s future is on the back end starting next season.