What we learned: Playoff-type game – advantage Rangers
March 2. Game No. 64. Eighteen left; 11 at TD Garden.
Thursday night, the New York Rangers in town for the first official matchup in the push to postseason play. Yeah, the two wins against the San Jose Sharks since Bruce Cassidy took over were impressive. Ok, the win over the reeling Montreal Canadiens on February 12 to break that jinx streak at TD Garden was rewarding.
It’s March, though – and like the proverbial September influence at the Fenway setting, each game now gets magnified.
The Rangers are a lock for the postseason with 82 points, good for fourth in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division, but a whopping 14 ahead of the Leafs for the final wild card spot. A good test for the Black and Gold in their conference – only the second in Cassidy’s tenure.
The B’s, at 7-1 under Cassidy, hanging onto third in the Atlantic Division. Three weeks ago, the Bruins were 25 percent to reach the playoffs; two weeks ago – 50; this week 75.
Momentum is building in the Hub of Hockey. No major splashes at the trade deadline; one minor move in GM Don Sweeney acquiring forward Drew Stafford from Winnipeg for insurance against injuries. Hope springs eternal for a long playoff run. But with an every-other-night playing pace the next five weeks, the Broadway Blueshirts begin the Bruins’ informal second season – a barometer game to assess Cassidy’s influence and the team’s mettle as a contender.
Missing key players in defenseman Kevin Klein and leading goal scorer Michael Grabner, the Rangers had nonetheless taken all points the last four games against the Bruins. Tuesday at the trade deadline, they acquired a formidable addition to their blue line in Detroit’s Brendan Smith.
Two of the NHL’s best between the pipes on display Thursday: Tuukka Rask vs. Henrik Lundqvist. Rask was 9-6-3 with a 2.26 goals against average and .924 save percentage in 19 career games against the Rangers. Lundqvist was 24-12-2 with a 1.95 GAA and .935 Save % in 38 career games against the Bruins.
Here’s what we learned as Boston played its first playoff-type game under Cassidy in a 2-1 loss.
Early lost chances would come back to haunt
First, a David Pastrnak sparkling backhand two minutes in – Lundqvist the pad save at the post. Better at the 4:50 mark when a Rangers’ turnover put Zdeno Chara in solo from the blue line like a practice scenario – Lundqvist again prevailing. Brandon Carlo at 8:20 with a 20 feet of daylight to Lundqvist – nope. A power play at 8:51 – nada. Bruins 7-0 shots on net to that point; Rangers did not register a shot until the 12-minute mark.
“We had that chance to take the lead and extend the lead in the first period,” Cassidy said after his first loss at TD Garden in five games. “We were the better team, we had the better chances, gave up nothing. But, [Henrik] Lundqvist was good. He’s a good goalie – a very good goalie – and he showed it tonight and he gave them the chance to win.”
Boston’s string of 10 straight games with a first-period goal was snapped. The B’s league-leading penalty kill kept the score at 0-0 after 20 with a 9-3 shots advantage.
Goose eggs after 40 minutes
Aside from two Peter Cehlarik bids at the 16:30 mark and a Patrice Bergeron bullet from 15 feet out at 18:30 with a denying glove save by Lundqvist, the second period goal total replicated the first.
“We kept it scoreless for a long time,” Bergeron said, “but at the same time, offensively, we’ve got to create a little more in the slot, around the net, and make it a little harder for the defenseman and also the goalie to battle and fight for the puck.”
Onto the third
New York was 13-3-2 when even entering the final period this season; Boston at 5-5-1.
“We know they’re good in third periods,” Cassidy said post game. “If you look at their goal totals in the third, they’ve got a large, you know, advantage in the third over most teams.”
The Bruins being another victim Thursday night.
A rocket past Rask by Russian rookie Pavel Buchnevich at 5:10 put the Rangers ahead. Buchnevich had two goals and an assist Wednesday night in his AHL Hartford Wolfpack game, obviously getting the message about his need to ratchet up his game on Broadway.
David Pastrnak had an open-net opportunity at the 8-minute mark, but Lundqvist closed the space on his backhand.
Ninety ticks later at 9:35, Oscar Lindberg made a Gumby-like move going backhand to fore in the right faceoff circle before shoveling a top-shelf shot past Rask on just the Rangers’ 15th shot on net and the winning goal.
Pastrnak helped to pull Boston to within one when he muscled in alone on Lundqvist with a sprawling and sweeping backhand shot that trickled to an open Brad Marchand – and an open net at the right post at 12:56. It was Marchand’s team-leading 29th goal and 22nd point in his last 14 games.
With 2:22 left, it was too much David Backes in Lundqvist’s kisser when he attempted to hurtle the crease and got called for questionable goaltender interference.
“I think I’m going to the net, trying to avoid contact,” Backes said. “He comes up to initiate it, and I look and the ref’s arm is in the air, and I sit for the next two minutes.”
“Goalies nowadays — they know that they can’t be touched,” Marchand said about the play, “and they flop around and they interfere with guys knowing that they’re going to get to call for them.”
“We had some good pressure and that kind of took the wind out of our sails,” Cassidy said about the penalty. “Whether you agree with the call or not, we had a good push going.”
The Bruins outshot the Rangers, 33-21.
New Jersey on Saturday night
“We’re getting closer to that time and you can tell that we all want those points,” Bergeron said about the push to the playoffs. “Even the atmosphere in the building was great and the fans were awesome, but it’s unfortunate we couldn’t get the two points.
“You have to bounce back right away,” he said about New Jersey.
Every team in the playoff hunt with Boston took points Thursday night, tightening the postseason scenario even further.
“The takeaway is we lost and at this time of the year, we need points,” Cassidy summed. “That’s the big picture.”
For 18 more games.