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Thursday, March 2, 2017

If the B's Make the Playoffs This Year, They Need to Avoid the Rangers For As Long As Possible

It is still way too far out to start making playoff plans but let me say this: if Boston (33-25-6) reaches the postseason for the first time in three years, they had better hope that they don't see the Rangers (41-21-2) anytime soon. New York polished off a three-game season sweep of Boston with a playoff-like 2-1 victory tonight at TD Garden. The Rangers have now won five straight games against the Bruins dating back to last season. At this time of the year, there is no solace when you leave points on the table and that's exactly what the B's did although at least they had a much better showing than their pair of 5-2 beatings in both 2016-17 tilts.

Rangers superstar Henrik Lundqvist (32 saves) celebrated his 35th birthday today and he proved to still be one of the best goaltenders in the world. Boston came out strong to start the contest, outshooting New York 9-3 in the first period, but it was shades of Claude Julien's teams the last few seasons as they couldn't convert any of those prime scoring chances. The rest of New York woke up in the second period and outshot Boston 11-8 but it was still 0-0 with both power plays shooting blanks (0-for-2).

Tuukka Rask (19 saves) wasn't nearly as busy as his counterpart until two unlikely Rangers beat him with sweet shots early in the third period. Pavel Buchnevich-fresh off the bus from Hartford (where he scored two goals including the game-winner for the Wolf Pack last night)-put the puck top-shelf by Rask at 5:10. Zdeno Chara for some reason let the young Russian skate to the slot where he unloaded a heavy shot. Nick Holden and the ghost of Rick Nash assisted on Buchnevich's seventh goal of the season (his 1st for NYR since Jan. 19). Oscar Lindberg made a sweet move around Brandon Carlo and then roofed the puck to the far side top corner at 9:35 for a sudden 2-0 Rangers lead. Matt Puempel and Brady Skjei (who for all I know could be background characters in an 80s romantic comedy) had the helpers on Lindberg's fifth goal of the season.

Under Julien, that would have been all she wrote for the B's but with Cassidy (who fell to 7-2-0 overall, 4-1-0 at home), their resilience is much more noticeable. While he was getting taken down by a New York defenseman, David Pastrnak managed with one hand to shovel the puck towards Lundqvist. Brad Marchand of course was right there on the doorstep to knock the puck in after a few Tinder-like swipes at 12:56. Colin Miller had the second assist on Marchand's team-leading 29th goal of the season. Marchand has 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in his last 14 games and that goal extended his point-streak to four games (4 goals, 4 assists). Pastrnak remained hot as well (am I right ladies?) with 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in his last 11 games.

Boston had all the momentum and plenty of time left to find a tying goal but a shaky at best goalie interference call on David Backes derailed things with 2:22 left in regulation. I really respect almost everything about Lundqvist except his propensity to flop like a professional soccer player (he is Swedish after all). If you watch many Rangers games, you'll notice that he's often in collisions or plays that he makes look worse than they really turn out to be. God bless NHL referees since it appears that they still haven't figured this out about the man they call the King (that's not named LeBron). New York did nothing on that power play but it mattered little since when Backes finally got out of the penalty box, the tilt was nearly over.

The B's saw their four-game winning streak at the Garden end this evening but they will have a great chance to start another one on Saturday night (7, NESN) as they host the wretched Devils (25-26-12). There is no excuse for the Bruins not to comfortably beat that terrible team that is going nowhere (except the NHL Draft lottery) fast. As we speak, New Jersey is only two points ahead of both Carolina (25-25-10) and Detroit (25-26-10) who are bringing up the rear in the Eastern Conference. In other words, they suck. If I was Cassidy, I would probably start backup goaltender Anton Khudobin (3-5-1) since anyone not named Malcolm Subban should be able to get a win vs. New Jersey.

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