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.

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Dave Dombrowski is collecting stars and talent over at Fenway Park. I dig it.

*Interesting piece about switching teams in the NHL and leaving behind old allegiances when the job calls for it.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Harvey Fialkov looks at the connections between the Bruins and the Florida Panthers, and more specifically with the Panthers and the Boston-area.

*A rumor round-up across the NHL including the humorous nugget that the Bruins are looking to move Jimmy Hayes. Yes, they are looking to move Hayes. They are begging some other NHL team to take on the player and the contract for somebody that has one point since last February. It’s not happening.

*Escrow is at the heart of the next negotiation between the NHL and the NHLPA, and I really thought it was going to be years before I’d have to even think about the CBA again.

*Tough break for the Florida Panthers losing Keith Yandle for a long period of time after he was injured last night vs. the Bruins. FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford has the story at Pro Hockey Talk.

*Wild coach Bruce Boudreau talks his “bucket list”, which includes a lot of movies and even a stint as a movie reviewer for the Manchester Union Leader back in the day.

*Sounds like Pat Maroon might want to sit out the next few plays after calling hockey a “man’s game” among other things.

*For something completely different: Yup, I’m pretty okay with the Red Sox blowing up the prospect cupboard for Chris Sale.