Haggerty: Bruins-Rangers a statement game

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Haggerty: Bruins-Rangers a statement game

UNIONDALE, NY If any team has had the Bruins number over the last three years, it is the New York Rangers and their All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

The Blueshirts have captured all three meetings against the Bruins this season and won nine of the last 11 meetings with the reigning Stanley Cup champs.

There is nobody else in either conference that has dominated the Bs quite like the hard-charging Rangers have.

When the top two teams in the Eastern Conference play Sunday night at Madison Square Garden a statement will be made by these two rugged hockey teams who could meet each other in the Eastern Conference Finals this spring.

The Rangers have essentially been No. 1 all season, and theyre looking to prove their readiness for a long, bountiful playoff journey after some early exits over the last few seasons.

The Bruins just want a little respect.

Boston played well in their last trip to Madison Square Garden a fight-filled grudge match between the two rivals in the East that also featured some pretty good hockey from the Bs after falling behind by a 2-0 score.

But in the end Lundqvist once again outplayed Thomas, and the Rangers won, 4-3. After the game, Thomas jokingly faulted the yellowish stage lighting for his inability to see the puck.

The Bruins are looking for a different result in this final regular season clash with the Rangers. It would be meaningful to prove they can beat Lundqvist and the Rangers in their backyard if push comes to shove in the playoffs.

Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan have all given Boston their share of challenges over the last couple of years during battles with New York, but its Lundqvist and the strong, leak-proof New York defense that provides the biggest threat to Bs effectiveness.

Lundqvist is now 19-5-2 with a 1.51 goals against average, a .948 save percentage and six shutouts in 26 games against the Bruins, and is on the tip of every Boston players tongue when they are asked to name the NHLs best goaltender.

In short, King Henrik is in Bostons head a little bit. They need to get him out before a potential seven-game series this spring.

The plan is pretty simple on the Bruins end, and it involves equal parts courage and determination. Zdeno Chara has seven points in his last four games and David Krejci has three multi-point games in a row so the Bruins offense is finally hitting Gotham feeling good about themselves. They need to find a way to turn Charas big shot and the traffic in front of the net into offense against the Rangers.

Theres no doubting hes an excellent goaltender and hes had some very good games against us. There is a challenge there for us to go out and have success against him and the Rangers, said Chris Kelly. But it always comes back to the same things against good goaltender -- making them move around and getting plenty of good traffic moving in front of them. Even the best goalies cant stop what they cant see.

Its the perfect time for Boston to face their New York nemesis as theyve gone 6-1-1 in their last eight games. They finally seem in perfect playoff pitch after faltering through .500 hockey for more than two months. Boston could even have the Northeast Division all wrapped up by the time their game gets going if the Ottawa Senators fall to the New York Islanders on Sunday afternoon.

If not, the Bruins will have double the motivation against the Rangers knowing a win would make a long-ranging statement and lock them into one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference. But for a team thats suffered through one-goal games in 16 of the last 20 meetings between the Bruins and the Rangers, more than anything else the Bruins are looking for a gritty, playoff-style match against a Blueshirts team that normally matches them in the work-ethic department.

I think its a great test for both the team and for me as were getting ready for the playoffs. These are the kinds of games we need to play to make sure were ready, said Tyler Seguin. We havent done the greatest against them. Hopefully we can show them what we can bring just in case we meet them a couple of weeks from now in the playoffs as well.

With four games left the Rangers game will represent the last big push by the Bruins before they start resting some of their key players, and give Tim Thomas a little down time prior to an expected long postseason run.

The Bs need to show they have one last big punch in them on a Sunday night prime time exchange with the Rangers. Then it will be all about the postseason for the Bruins, who have been waiting all year for this time of the season to arrive.

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

BOSTON -- Prior to this year, the Celtics hadn't been to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012. That trip served as a curtain call of sorts for the last great C's dynasty.
 
But this one, which ended with Cleveland's emphatic 135-102 Game 5 victory Thursday at TD Garden, is very different.
 
Rather than closing another chapter in the Celtics' longstanding legacy of greatness, it could serve as the beginning of a new narrative in the franchise's steady growth.
 
"For us to be in the Eastern Conference finals after the first year of this team really being together, adding additions like Al Horford and Gerald Green . . . I can go down the list of guys that we needed to learn to play with, and for us to talk about where we wanted to be and actually make it, it's a big-time accomplishment," said Avery Bradley.
 
Boston has been among the younger teams in the NBA, with the 31-year-old Green being the oldest player on the roster.
 
But what the Celtics lacked in experience, they made up for with great effort.
 
"The great thing about this is the experience," Bradley said. "We were able to go to the Eastern Conference finals, learned a lot about being in this position, and I feel like it's going to help us for next year."
 
But as we all know, the Celtics will look to strengthen themsevles this offseason, which means there's a very good chance they'll have a different look when they gather again in the fall.
 
How different is anyone's guess.
 
"It's difficult every year whenever you don't have guys back," said coach Brad Stevens. "I think you share a bond (over the course of a season)."
 
Stevens and this group have been together for eight months. Eight months of struggles, successes, frustrating defeats and euphoric victories that brought them to the conference finals, which is where their season came to an end.
 
But as disappointed as the players and coaches are inow, there's definite excitement about this franchise in the very near future.
 
Boston has the No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, with all indications -- for now -- pointing to Washington's Markelle Fultz as their choice.
 
And their top first-round pick from a year ago, Jaylen Brown, seemed to steadily improve as the season progressed. It was one of the few times in his life where minutes weren't just handed to him, which he admits was a learning experience unlike anything he had ever had, yet he adjusted and played better as the year went along.

"I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had opportunities, I've had mistakes," said Brown. "So I've been learning and growing and improving all year and I'm going to continue growing and improving and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong."
 
Having the season end the way it did has indeed left a bad taste in the mouths of many Celtics.
 
"I can use it as fuel," Brown said, adding: "I want to get back to the same place I'm at now."
 
Bradley, who was on the 2012 team that lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals, knows the Celtics are going to do whatever they feel is necessary to give them the best chance at competing for a title.
 
"It's out of our control as players," Bradley said. "We had a great year together. If guys are here, if guys aren't, we all wish the best for each other.

"But I do feel this is a special group. We all gave our heart every single night, played as hard as we could. I respect all my teammates, and I really appreciated playing with all the guys I had a chance to play with this year; a special group."