BOSTON — In the annals of the current Boston Bruins, March 22, 2008 will be a day that goes down in history.
That’s the night the Bruins, having lost their previous seven head-to-head meetings with Montreal during the regular season, lost again. But this time at Bell Centre the Bruins pushed the Canadiens to a shootout before they fell, 3-2.
The game featured a fight by P.J. Axelsson with Maxim Lapierre and a whole lot of physical play. Some say that set the tone for the seven-game playoff series that would unfold a month later. And that series set the tone for the Bruins’ history-making 2008-09 regular season.
Today the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins have to avoid letting the New York Rangers set a similar tone at TD Banknorth Garden. If the season ended today, the Bruins and Rangers would be first-round foes. Like the Bruins of last season, however, nothing is set in stone as far as the Rangers making the playoffs. Florida and Buffalo will have what to say about that eighth spot through the season’s final week, and the Rangers will be playing this one like a playoff game.
Although the Bruins play at their best when they answer physicality with a lot of the same, they’re going to need to toe the line. New York will try hard to get under the skin of Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and the rest, in an effort to psyche them out for today and beyond, but the Bruins will have to keep their emotions in check and stay within the groundrules of the game. That’ll assure that even in defeat they’ll still hold the psycological edge that comes with the conference’s No. 1 seed.
Season series: The Bruins are 1-1-1 against the Rangers this season, with the one win coming in a Tuukka Rask shootout at TD Banknorth Garden.
What they’re writing: The Rangers might have history on their side by holding the eighth spot so late.
New York player to watch: You know you want to keep a close eye on him. It’s a guilty pleasure like watching reality television or eating that seven-layer chocolate cake. Sean Avery makes people watch hockey. The league will probably always deny that, even as its TV partners focus on him and all the talk shows blab about him. The next time he steps the slightest out of line, he’ll get suspended again and “hockey people” will be all up in arms and act ashamed. But this guy not only can play, he’s a winner. Since rejoining the Rangers, Avery has put up 4-6-10 totals in 14 games. And the Rangers are 8-5-1 — a solid record considering how they’d been floundering before his arrival.