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.

Eriksson named Lady Byng finalist for second time

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Eriksson named Lady Byng finalist for second time

Patrice Bergeron will have some Bruins company at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas at the end of the month of June.

Loui Eriksson was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy on Saturday afternoon along with Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar and Florida Panthers pivot Aleksander Barkov. It’s the second time in his career that Eriksson will be named a finalist for the award given annually "to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."

The Swedish winger finished his best season in a Bruins uniform with 30 goals (third on team) and 33 assists for the second most points (63) on the team along with 12 total penalty minutes through 82 games played. Eriksson was excited to once again be a finalist for the award, and to be lumped in with a couple of the NHL’s best players in Kopitar and Barkov.

“It is a great honor to be considered for the Lady Byng Trophy, an award that has been won by some of the best players of all time,” said Eriksson, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 after three seasons in Boston. “There are many deserving candidates so to be named one of the finalists with Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov is very exciting for me. Thank you to my teammates and the coaching staff and I appreciate all those who voted.”

The last Bruin to win the Lady Byng Trophy was Rick Middleton back in 1981-82, and Eriksson is the first B’s finalist for Lady Byng in more than 10 years.

Bruins will select 14th overall in first round

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Bruins will select 14th overall in first round

The Boston Bruins basically had a three percent of moving up into the top three of the NHL Draft Lottery on Saturday night, but they didn’t strike it draft rich when it was all said and done up in Toronto.

With Bruins general manager Don Sweeney in attendance representing the Original Six franchise, the Black and Gold were the first team logo selected in the draft lottery meaning they will own the 14th overall pick in the first round for the second straight summer.

Instead the Toronto Maple Leafs will select first overall after putting together the worst record in the NHL last season, and the Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets won the lottery to move up into the second and third slots in the draft.

This marks the sixth time in franchise history that the club has owned the 14th overall selection in the NHL Draft. The Bruins drafted Jake DeBrusk 14th overall last summer in Florida at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Stephane Quintal 14th overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, Normand Leveille 14th overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, Douglas Halward 14th overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft and Terry O’Reilly 14th overall in the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft.

Based on finishing with the highest point total of all non-playoff teams for the second straight season, the Bruins owned a 1.0% chance of winning the 2016 Draft Lottery overall and a 3.4% chance of securing a top-three pick.

The 2016 NHL Draft will take place on June 24-25 at the First Niagara Center home of the Sabres in Buffalo just a couple of months from now, and the Bruins also own the first round pick of the San Jose Sharks that will end up somewhere in the 20’s based on the fact they’re still currently alive in the playoffs.

Saturday, April 30: Preparing for the lottery

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Saturday, April 30: Preparing for the lottery

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while celebrating Greek Easter this weekend by way of my in-laws. Christos Anesti.  

*Pro Hockey Talk writer James O’Brien has everything you need to know about tonight’s NHL Draft Lottery.

*Brent Burns is recognized as a Norris Trophy finalist after his best season as a member of the San Jose Sharks. For the record, the top three of Drew Doughty, Burns and Erik Karlsson were also the top three votes on my awards ballot, and exactly in that order.

*Puck Daddy eulogizes the Anaheim Ducks, who lost in the first round and promptly got their head coach fired.

*Speaking of the Ducks and a great man and good coach in Bruce Boudreau, who is now out of work, Anaheim GM Bob Murray is now getting ready to round up the candidates for a new coach.

*Spector has a number of hockey rumors, including what’s expected for offseason changes for the Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks now that they’re on the golf course.

*If the Edmonton Oilers win the draft lottery again, two things will happen: a lot of people will be angry, and Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli will have a lot of options at his disposal.

*Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk bring the Stanley Cup pedigree to an Islanders team that’s voyaging deep into the playoffs.

*For something completely different: Kevin Faulk gets mad props for wearing the Tom Brady jersey to the NFL podium to help announce New England’s draft picks.