Bruins aim to keep climbing vs. Rangers (Mar 02, 2017)
BOSTON — Things are going so well for the surging Bruins that they don’t even have to play their best game to get two points against a weaker opponent.
“We got two points out of it. It wasn’t pretty, but we got the two points,” David Backes said after Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes raised Boston’s record under interim coach Bruce Cassidy to 7-1. “We’ll get a good day of practice in tomorrow, and be able to hit the ground running against a good Rangers team on Thursday.”
The Original Six pair, with a possible playoff matchup waiting next month, meet at TD Garden on Thursday night.
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While the Bruins, continuing their fight to end a two-year playoff drought, are flying, the New York Rangers, who are actually entrenched in a playoff spot, have stumbled. They just lost two straight home games to playoff contenders Columbus and Pittsburgh — by a combined 9-3 count.
“It’s just a frustrating night,” Derek Stepan said after the 4-1 loss to the Capitals Tuesday. “You could feel it on the bench. Everyone was frustrated. It is what it is. We’ve got to make sure we learn from it and get ourselves ready.”
Tuesday, the banged-up Rangers added defenseman Brendan Smith from the Detroit Red Wings with the hope he can bolster a backline that is playing without the injured Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein. Wednesday, the Bruins beat the deadline by picking up veteran winger Drew Stafford from the Winnipeg Jets.
Asked about Smith, New York coach Alain Vigneault said, “What I’ve been seeing, and especially our scouts have been following him very closely… real competitive defenseman, can skate well, make a good first pass. He competes, he competes real hard, and we’re going to need that.”
The Bruins are healthy and they’re flying as Cassidy steams toward what is likely to become a job without the “interim” tag.
“I see a group that’s confident. I see a group that’s resilient. We need to keep building on that,” he said.
Seven wins in eight games. Four straight at home, their first four-game home winning streak since November, 2014. The most important Bruins are all playing well. The team is healthy. It all adds up to Boston looking more and more like a team that will end its two-year playoff drought.
“I want the guys to make sure that they play confident hockey and believe in themselves,” Cassidy said. “We want to set a standard.”
And now they add Stafford, who could force his way into the third-line picture.
The Bruins reportedly learned Wednesday that defenseman Colin Miller will not face NHL disciplinary action for his hit that sent Arizona’s Alexander Burmistrov to the hospital after leaving on the ice on a stretcher.
Both sides felt after the game the hit was a “hockey play” and the league felt the same way.
The Rangers, who have a huge lead in the Eastern Conference wild card race while also still being alive to get into the top three in the Metropolitan Division, already own a pair of 5-2 victories over the Bruins this year. But Thursday they will see a team that has reacted to so well to the coaching change — Cassidy taking over for the fired Claude Julien.
Patrice Bergeron had two assists Tuesday and has 21 points in the last 14 games, while Brad Marchand, who had a goal and an assist against the Coyotes, has 23 over that same span.
Tuukka Rask stopped 22 shots for his 30th win of the season — his fourth straight 30-win season and he is 9-1 lifetime against the Coyotes. He enters Thursday’s game 9-6-3 with a 2.26 goals against average, a .924 save percentage and two shutouts against the Rangers.
Henrik Lundqvist, who recently cleared the 400-win mark, is 24-12-2 with a 1.95 goals against average, a .935 save percentage and six shutouts in goal against the Bruins.
In addition to the injuries on defense, the Rangers, who also acquired forward Taylor Beck in a minor deal with Edmonton Wednesday, also lost fourth-line winger Jesper Fast to a shoulder injury Tuesday night, He is expected to miss 2-3 weeks.
Mica Zibanejad missed Tuesday’s game but is expected to play Thursday, but Michael Grabner was injured in a practice collision Wednesday and is doubtful.