First Bruins-Rangers Clash Worth the Wait, Many More Rounds to Come for Eastern Conference Heavyweights

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January 21, 2012

First Bruins-Rangers Clash Worth the Wait, Many More Rounds to Come for Eastern Conference HeavyweightsBOSTON — It took more than half a season to finally bring the Eastern Conference's top two teams together, but it was worth the wait.

The Bruins couldn't overtake the Rangers for the conference lead, as they fell 3-2 in overtime, but there was nothing to hang their heads about after a solid effort in an evenly played matchup between two of the league's true heavyweights. The two teams will face each other again three more times this season, and quite possibly play another four to seven more games sometime in the spring.

"I thought it was a good game," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "It could have gone either way, and [I'm] certainly not disappointed in our team. In our minds, we have to find a way to probably generate some more offense, and this is a stingy team we played. If we were going to score more goals, we really needed some grinding work in front of their net, and at times you saw it.

"Probably, we needed our power play to cash in for us, and even [in] those outnumbered situations, you have to at least get a shot, so if we really want to critique our game, that would be the areas I'd critique," Julien added. "Anybody who doesn't think we played well tonight needs to reevaluate how he looks at the game of hockey because it was a great game played by both teams and certainly what this league is looking for."

The league probably isn't looking for hits like the one Andrew Ference threw on Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh 1:50 into overtime. That drew a five-minute major for charging, and New York scored on the ensuing power play in the closing seconds of the extra frame.

That put a damper on what had been an entertaining game featuring plenty of clean, hard hits, strong goaltending and the kind of intensity usually reserved for the postseason.

"It kind of had a playoff feel, where guys were getting pucks in and getting in on the forecheck and taking the body," Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid said. "That's probably what was expected coming into this afternoon with these two teams."

It was the first meeting of the season, but there aren't many secrets left in this Original Six rivalry.

"There weren't a lot of surprises," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. "I think we were aware that they're very well-structured defensively. They work hard. They have good goaltending. They work extremely hard, actually, and they've got a lot of depth. So no real surprises. It was kind of the game we expected. I think the game kind of showed that because it probably could have went either way."

The Rangers came out of the contest with some renewed respect for the reigning champs as well.

"It was the first meeting against these guys in their barn," Rangers forward Marian Gaborik said. "We know they have a very good hockey team. I think they have a very similar hockey team as we do. So, we knew it was going to be a physical game, a tight game, and it was. So we're glad that we got these two points."

Gaborik got that extra point for New York, scoring his second goal of the night with 3.6 seconds remaining in overtime to win it. It was a third-chance opportunity, as Tuukka Rask made two sprawling saves before Gaborik was able to lift the puck over him for a finish that thrilled at least some in attendance, though certainly not the Bruins netminder.

"It's two rebounds," Rask said. "I mean, it hit my glove twice, but what sucks even more is, like, three seconds [left]. Somebody liked it, I guess. I mean, it was a pretty thrilling end. Not for me though.

"They really work hard," Rask added of the Rangers. "They're not the first place in the East for nothing, and I think they've done a great job in the past years developing their guys and building that game. They're a tough team to play against. They work really hard and they don't give up much. They don't score much, but they really work hard."

The Bruins are a hard-working bunch as well, and they took some positives — as well as the single point — out of their effort on Saturday.

"It was definitely our best game in the last couple weeks and a great hockey game," Ference said. "Both teams proved why we're getting a lot of points and getting wins. We both play the game hard and got a lot of tools. They have a good goalie and a good system, just like we do, and enough talent to be difference makers."

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