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.