The first two periods of Tuesday night’s original six battle between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins instantly made you question why Claude Julien reverted back to his original lines. In a move that was deemed brilliant at the time, Julien moved Tyler Seguin up to the first unit with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, resulting in two straight victories in Montreal and Buffalo.
The Bruins hit the ice Tuesday morning for their pregame skate, with Seguin flanking Marchand and Bergeron on the second unit. Sometimes line combinations during a morning skate don’t necessarily reflect the pairings for the night, but Julien wasn’t bluffing.
The same lines that turned in lethargic efforts in Toronto and Montreal were reunited once again but the results remained the same for about two-and-a-half periods of play, resulting in a 4-3 defeat in a overtime shootout.
Nonetheless, a point is a point and Julien was proud of the resolve his team continues to show thus far on the young season.
With the point gained, Boston remains idle atop the Northeast Division and second overall in the Eastern Conference standings with 18 points (8-1-2). The Rangers picked up their third straight victory, moving their record up to 7-5-0 (14 points), ranking third best in the Atlantic Division and eighth overall in the Eastern Conference.
In the opening period, the Bruins buzzed around on the forecheck relentlessly and created numerous scoring opportunities, but Henrik Lundqvist relinquished each scoring chance. It was at the 10:37 marker where the Rangers first got on the board from a Carl Hagelin tally, set up by a nifty deke from Rick Nash.
In the second period, it was more of the same disastrous recipe for Boston; Lundqvist, a powerless power-play and ill advised turnovers. With a little under 12 minutes remaining, Lucic fed a pass across the ice at his blueline behind Dougie Hamilton that Derek Stepan scooped up and rifled under the armpit of Tuukka Rask, one that didn’t sit too well with his head coach.
At the start of the third, the Bruins were faced with the daunting challenge of killing off a five-on-three disadvantage for 1:03 but the good news was the Rangers power-play unit actually was struggling worse than the Bruins power-play. Even though the Bruins battled to kill off the disadvantage, Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman fired a weak shot near the bottom of the faceoff dot that trickled underneath the blocker of Rask.
“We end up missing a body check at center ice and we throw the puck right back to where our guy isn’t on the ice, so they turn the puck over and they come back to score probably a weak goal, I’d say,” said Julien.
As deflating as a goal as Stralman’s was, the 2013 Boston Bruins are proving this year that no goal deficit is out of reach. Coming off another man advantage, which saw the Boston’s first line PP unit pepper Lundqvist throughout, David Krejci finally freed “Zombie Nation” by backhanding home a rebound opportunity off a redirected tip from Lucic at the 8:44 marker, cutting the deficit back down to two.
“Obviously, you need to get the first one. Once you get the first one, they get nervous a little bit and I think that’s what happened,” said Krejci. “We were all over them, we were getting great chances.”
Trailing 3-1 with under two minutes remaining to play, Julien pulled Rask for the extra attacker in Rich Peverley, who pick pocketed Rick Nash along the boards to feed Andrew Ference at the point who fired one into a cluster of bodies out front, ricocheting to Nathan Horton who fired one over the glove of Lundqvist to cut the deficit down to one at 3-2.
But that was just the start of what Bruins fans will now remember as the “Heart of Lions” game, which saw NESN broadcaster Jack Edwards jumping up for joy shortly later.
Once again, Julien pulled Rask for the extra attacker and once again, the B’s dominated at the offensive end. With 42.3 seconds remaining in the game, a Bergeron blocked pass in the slot trickled over to Marchand, who seamlessly fired a cannon of a snapshot under the crossbar, sending the Garden into euphoria. No, there wasn’t a playoff like atmosphere inside the Garden on Tuesday night but for the last 1:31 of play, the sounds of June returned to the Hub of Hockey.
“It was a bit lucky. I tried to hit Bergie, but I think a guy blocked it, it came right back to me and I don’t think Lundqvist saw it and I put it in the open net,” Marchand said about the equalizer.
Overtime opened up with more dominant offensive play from the owners of the worst alternate jersey in the NHL, but Lundqvist turned away all four shots faced, ending his night with 37 saves.
At the other end, Rask turned aside the only two shots he faced, including a brilliant save in traffic on a one time slap shot off the broken stick of Marc Staal. The best scoring opportunity in extended time came off the open ice rush from Hagelin, but the relentless back-checking assault from Peverley was able to track down the speedy winger in time to break up the rush.
Lundqvist turned aside Seguin and Bergeron in the first two rounds while Rask stoned Gaborik in round one in the shootout, but surrendered a second round goal off a ridiculous deke courtesy of Rick Nash.
With Boston needing a goal to extend the shootout, Marchand fired a Joe Sakic like snapshot that beat Lundqvist low glove side. In the fourth round, David Krejci lost the handle on a deke attempt setting the stage for Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, who sniped a goal over the blocker of Rask.
In the end, the Bruins outshot the Rangers 40-29, so it’s tough to view the game in its entirety as a “steal.” Saying that, it’s also tough to view any game as anything but a steal, when you trailed by three goals in the third period but still managed to pick up a point.
Starting Friday in Buffalo, the Black and Gold embark on a five game road trip which will conclude after a February 26 meeting in New York against the Islanders. What’s last night’s point worth now?