The Bruins limited the Rangers, but still lost, in a close game at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
What the Bruins have done since general manager Don Sweeney replaced Claude Julien with Bruce Cassidy has been great.
It’s propelled the Bruins back into legitimate playoff positioning thanks to wins in seven of eight Cassidy-led games, but collapses in back-to-back stretch runs won’t sell this fanbase on anything just yet. Everybody knows that the B’s mission is far from accomplished, and a Thursday night showdown with a Rangers club that’s straight-up smacked you around in two prior head-to-heads this season was just another test to truly see where this team is now versus then.
But the end result remained the same as it did in the Julien-led matchups against the Rangers this season, as the Bruins fell to the Rangers by a 2-1 final at TD Garden.
On a three-game winning streak entering action, the Bruins continued their trend of strong starts carried the pace of the opening 20 minutes, as they peppered the first six shots of the game on Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist, including a great chance from David Pastrnak that was snuffed out by No. 30.
But in what would become the theme of the night, Lundqvist, who was celebrating his 35th birthday, stood tall for the Rangers.
The Bruins had plenty of positives to hang their hats on in that first period, though, including some phenomenal chances from their second line with Pastrnak, David Krejci and Peter Cehlarik working the puck to one another for high-quality looks.
The Rangers escaped the period knotted up at 0-0 in spite of a 9-to-3 shot advantage that favored the Black and Gold, and though the second period brought about more of the same score-wise, the Rangers came at the B’s with a significant pushback.
In a period that epitomized everything that made the first two meetings between these two teams blowouts that favored the Blueshirts, the speedy Rangers frequently pinned the Bruins in their own end and gassed Boston’s top defensive unit. In a 5:33 stretch in the middle of the period, some with the Rangers on a power play and some back at five-on-five, the long change and pressure from New York kept B’s captain Zdeno Chara on the ice for a total of 3:30 of time on ice in just two shifts.
Through 40 minutes, and with the teams still scoreless, the 39-year-old Chara was already at over 15 minutes.
The Rangers exposed that in the third period, too, as Pavel Buchnevich drew Chara in on a one-on-one battle near the faceoff dot to the left of Rask before he rocketed his seventh goal of the season at 5:10 of the third period to break the draw.
But the Bruins continued to test Lundqvist. Pastrnak, who bounced around lines due to long changes and double shifts at times as Cassidy tinkered with some things in the third period, whiffed on a attempted corral on an empty cage, and was ultimately left to stuff the puck into a sprawled Lundqvist for an easy stop. The Rangers countered that Boston chance with a goal, however, as it was Oscar Lindberg that danced through Brandon Carlo and went upstairs for the Rangers’ second goal of the night.
Instead of the letting the goal become a dagger, the Bruins answered on a Brad Marchand goal at 12:56 of the third.
By then the hole was too deep, though, as Lundqvist stood on his head for 32 saves — and a nice flop to crush any hope of a B’s comeback when he suckered the referees into a goaltender interference call on David Backes with less than three minutes to go — and a final Torey Krug flubbed shot with 2.2 seconds left in the third finalized the season sweep courtesy of the Rangers.
The end result is a painful one for the Bruins, who will undoubtedly walk away from this game feeling like they deserved better, but it’s one that shows that this team is still trending in the right direction under Cassidy.
They just got stoned by the birthday boy.
The Bruins return to action Saturday against the Devils.