By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Never mind that the Bruins fell into the exact hangover game trap as the last time following an emotional win over the Montreal Canadiens the second instance this season they dropped the next home game in emotionless fashion after a cathartic beating of the Habs.
Its true that it wouldnt have been any more of a Hangover Game for the Bruins if Mike Tysons pet tiger jumped out upon opening the door to the Bs dressing room for the first period intermission.
Claude Julien certainly wasnt having any of the hangover talk.
I think that would be a weak excuse. Were certainly not going to use that as an excuse, said Julien. This is the time our year where you got to make sure that youre able to push those games aside.
There are a lot of emotional games coming up in the future here, in the near future, and weve got to be able to respond night after night. It was more of our team maybe not being as good as the other team tonight as far as the will to win those battles early on and being heavy on the stick.
But The Hangover wasnt the biggest impression following Saturday afternoons tilt.
Forget about Bostons 7-9-7 record during weekend games this season a stat that reveals a pretty healthy lack of focus during a very specific portion of the regular season.
Thats not the point either.
The biggest thing gleaned from Bostons spectacularly dull 1-0 loss to a grimy, determined Rangers bunch that blocked 29 shots at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon was a warning visit from the ghost of Stanley Cup playoffs future.
The Bruins got a sneak preview into a potential first round matchup against the Blueshirts one of three likely first round opponents between the Rangers, Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning given the current standings with only a handful of games remaining and it wasnt playing to rave reviews.
Nobody would have blamed the Bruins if they recounted tall tales of a brick wall wearing a Rangers sweater that stymied their shooting and passing lanes because the middle of Bostons offensive ice was permanently blocked.
I know for a fact that those guysI mean you watch the last few minutes they blocked every shot, said Dennis Seidenberg, who knows a thing or two about blocking shots. We didnt seem to get pucks through. Maybe we couldve done a better job. It definitely helps the goalie when guys are going hard at the shooter and trying to block those shots. That was good defense.
The victorious Rangers pulled into a tie with the Habs for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference with the victory, and stand as a very strong possibility for the Bs in the first round of the playoffs.
In the last three seasons, an amazing 10 out of 11 games with the Rangers have been nip-and-tuck one goal games between a pair of big, strong, disciplined defensive minded teams with outstanding goaltenders.
The Bruins have lost seven of those 11 games to the Rangers over the last three seasons, and the Blueshirts are one of those teams that are incredibly effective against Boston.
Why is that?
In essence the Rags and Bs are very similar hockey clubs, and the Bruins have experienced serious difficulty piercing New Yorks collapsing defense over the last three seasons with the same cast of roster characters for both sides.
The Bruins have pretty clear strength and toughness advantages over either Montreal or Tampa Bay, and thats a huge point when the playoffs reward teams with those attributes around the net. The Rags are Bostons equal in many of the brawn and bruising categories, and block more shots than any other team in the NHL in front of their All-Star goaltender.
The big bodies like Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, Wojtek Wolski up front and a defensemen corps thats all well over 6-feet tall and 200-pounds isnt going to be rag-dolled by the Bruins.
If and when the Bs do manage to maneuver their way through New Yorks layered defense, Henrik Lundqvist and his NHL-leading 11 shutouts will be crouched in wait to make the saves as he did while snatching Rich Peverleys top shelf wrist shot out of thin air in the third period.
Lundqvist has long been a dominant force against the Bruins between the pipes, and that was again the case on Saturday afternoon. Theres no reason to think that would any different in the playoffs where the Bs would no longer have a discernible advantage in the goaltending department.
That was pretty obvious when Lundqvist remained calm and tall between the pipes while stopping 12 shots in the third period during a frenzied assault by the Black and Gold.
Because the Rangers tend to strictly execute their defensive system, hustle and grind their way through blocking shots in front of the net, they are the worst kind of Bs adversary: the team that simply lets the Bruins sleep without waking the sleeping bears.
Thats like the Carolina Hurricanes team that caught the Bruins sleeping two years ago in the playoffs, and its the kind of team thats always given them fits.
Teams that are physically strong enough, defensively sound and strictly disciplined give the Big Bad Bruins their most difficult runs, and those reasons make the Rangers a squad to be avoided during the first round of Stanleys playoffs.
Watching the Rangers clamp down around their net and withstand the Bs final five minute onslaught -- and thoroughly shut down David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton should have been more than enough to give anybody pause about a collision course between the two Original Six teams early in the playoffs.
This time of year youre going to see a lot of those tight, grinding kinds of games, said Andrew Ference. I mean those are the goals that go in and youre not going to have a ton of great chances. Were going to run into good goalies the rest of the way, so get used to it I guess.
The Bs hope theyll have to get used to a soft, finesse, skill team when the playoffs begin that Bruins can power in, over, through and around.
Because entering into a first round alley fight with the Broadway Blueshirts might be exactly what the Bruins want to avoid if theyre hoping for a fruitful Cup run.