Bringing out the best
Clash of 1 vs. 2 on tap tonight
Roughly two-thirds through the regular season, the Rangers and Bruins have established themselves as the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, giving tonight’s meeting at TD Garden some added sizzle.
Boston has scored the most goals in the league (184), despite playing the fewest number of games. On the other hand, no team has surrendered fewer goals than New York’s 110.
Strength against strength, then, for the second time in 3 1/2 weeks; the Rangers beat the Bruins, 3-2, at the Garden Jan. 21, a game that required overtime. Don’t be surprised if this one’s just as close.
“They’re the first-place team in our conference, so it’s a big game for us,’’ said Milan Lucic, who’s tied with Tyler Seguin with a team-high 20 goals. “I’m sure it’s a big game for them as well. It’s what makes these games so fun to play in, these are the games you want to be part of.’’
A key part of the Rangers’ defensive game is blocking shots – they’re fourth in the league - which seems to be their calling card.
“They’re very tight defensively. They don’t give up a whole lot, so we’ll have to find different ways to get pucks on net,’’ Brad Marchand said. “I think you have to try to get [shots] off as quick as you can, not give the opponents time to get in your lane. Sometimes you have to aim wide, shoot for guys’ sticks, try to shoot off the boards. Whatever it may be, just try to get the pucks around them.’’
A 1-vs.-2 clash should have his team’s attention, but coach Claude Julien said he’s more concerned about his club, not the Rangers, and isn’t hung up on winning or losing, even from a game that needs no extra hype.
“I think everybody knows who they are, how good they are, and what they represent,’’ Julien said. “We’re a team that likes to put the focus on ourselves, more than who we’re playing and how good they’re playing.
“I’m not necessarily talking about a must-win, but a must-good game is what we need. We certainly have to play to win, but at the end of the game I’m going to look at how we played, and if it was good enough to get us a win.’’
For those who believe in symmetry, the Bruins suffered a February slide last season in which they lost four of five games, then peeled off a perfect six-game road trip.
A similar funk (the reigning Cup champions are 4-5 in their past nine) can be righted once again away from home. After tonight’s game, the Bruins will play six straight on the road. It starts tomorrow in Montreal.
While another 6-0 trip might be asking too much, there were residual side effects last season that the Bruins would love to feel once again.
“I think it was around that time, especially after that road trip, that we felt like we had a really good team here and could do something great, and we obviously did,’’ Lucic said. “It would be great if we could recreate that.’’
Last year’s run came with the trade deadline looming. The Bruins brought in three players - Chris Kelly, Tomas Kaberle, and Rich Peverley – who joined them on the trip, giving them a chance to bond with new teammates. This year’s trade deadline (Feb. 27) comes two days after the road swing, and while there’s no guarantee of roster changes, generating momentum is the goal, same as last year.
“We just seemed ready to play every night, it seemed to bring some enjoyment into our team in wanting to continue that,’’ Julien said. “We took off from there.’’
Kelly up for it
With David Krejci continuing to struggle - he had points in 16 of 18 games from mid December through January, but has gone five games in February with no points, putting only four shots on net during that span - Kelly has earned the bulk of the time on Krejci’s customary line, flanked by Lucic and Peverley. It’s a combination he feels quite comfortable with. “I’ve played with Rich for most of the time I’ve been here, and played with Looch at the beginning of the year,’’ said Kelly, who has but one assist over his past nine games. “I thought last game we had a lot of chances, so hopefully those opportunities continue.’’ Julien wouldn’t speculate how long Kelly will remain on the line, but said the changes were made for a very specific reason. “Certainly the way we were going we needed some line changes, and all that’s done is kind of give a jerk to everybody to get a little bit better,’’ Julien said . . . The Bruins recalled defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk from Providence. Bodnarchuk has appeared in five games with the Bruins, all in 2009-10.