It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. A tale of two halves.
Despite clinching the Northeast Division title with a win over the Atlanta Thrashers their last time out, there was still plenty on the line for both teams as the Boston Bruins traveled to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers on Monday night.
For Boston, they entered the game with four contests left on their schedule, sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference, just four points behind conference leaders Philadelphia and Washington with a game in hand. Monday’s game with the Rangers was a chance for Boston to take a run at the top spot in the East, and also one of their few remaining chances to get their game on track before the playoffs start in a little over two weeks. For the Rangers, who came into the game just two points up on the Carolina Hurricanes for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a win was imperative to keep their playoff fate in their own hands.
The Bruins started the game looking like a team out to prove itself worthy of top billing in the East, dominating the Rangers through the first 20. Though the score remained knotted at 0-0 until Boston got on the board at the 15:16 mark of the first, it was readily apparent Boston was the more dominant team as they, outshooting the Rangers 19-5 in the first period while getting contributions from the entire line-up.
Daniel Paille and Michael Ryder, two players in desperate need of continuing to pick their games up as the postseason approaches, combined to get the scoring going as Paille put home his fifth of the season late in the first. Ryder worked the puck out of the corner before centering to a crashing Johnny Boychuk, who send a shot intentionally wide of the Rangers net for Paille to tip past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for a 1-0 Bruins lead.
Just 1:34 later, Nathan Horton put the Bruins up 2-0 after flipping a seeing-eye wrist shot at the net that found its way through Lundqvist and a pair of Blue Shirts. The goal was Horton’s 25th of the season, the fourth time in his seven-year NHL career he has reached the 25-goal mark.
As quickly as it came, however, it went as the Rangers got on the board just 62 seconds after Chris Kelly gave the Bruins a 3-0 lead when Vinny Prospal scored the first of his two goals in the period at 11:34 of the second. After coming well out of his crease to stop a shot from Wojtek Wolski, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was unable to fully stop Wolski’s shot, which rolled through Thomas’ pads onto the stick of Prospal who was wide open in front of the net. Prospal later cut the Rangers deficit to one when he was again setup by Wolski with just 1:34 remaining in the second, bringing the score to 3-2.
Much as it was on the Ranger’s first goal, poor rebound control by Thomas also led to the game-winner for New York. A low angle shot by Rangers defenseman Michael Sauer from the bottom of the right wing circle found its way through the legs of Thomas, who was again well out of his crease, and slowly trickled across the goal line to put New York up, 4-3, at 17:03 of the third period. It was the first time in history the Rangers had overcome a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins. Rookie Derek Stepan put home the empty net goal for New York at 19:08.
The loss is all the more significant for the Bruins as they were not just playing a team that fighting for their playoff lives, but also against a team they could very likely see in the first round of the playoffs. The game was a test of how the Bruins would look in the playoffs, a chance to eliminate any questions about their chances that remain. A test the Bruins failed.
If those that follow the Bruins have learned anything over the past few seasons, it is that it does not matter how you start, but how you close. On Monday night, the Bruins were a team that stormed out of the gates and dominated their opponent. A worthy opponent in a game that paralleled a playoff game in terms of intensity and style. This was the kind of game that could be used as evidence of how the Bruins would look against a playoff opponent and the Bruins took to the challenge like a team worthy of accolades. At the halfway point of the contest, however, Boston became a team content to sit on their lead and just wait out the remaining 30 minutes of the game. The mark of a team ready to compete in the post-season?
They playoffs have not arrived yet, but if this game truly was a telltale sign of what to expect from the Boston Bruins and these trends continue, the Bruins’ season will be over far sooner that it should be.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.