NEW YORK -- If the New York Rangers’ playoff journey takes them through Boston, as it did a year ago, they will have a tough time.
And that’s if the Rangers make it to the postseason at all.
Now, the team’s recent pair of defeats are not enough to seriously doubt the Rangers will be in the top-eight teams in what is a pretty mediocre Eastern Conference, but Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Boston Bruins was enough to raise some concern about whether the Blueshirts can compete with the league’s elite.
As they did last spring, the Rangers struggled against a physically imposing and skilled Boston squad, despite taking advantage of a sluggish start from the Bruins and dominating the majority of the first period.
Even after outplaying the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins, the Rangers found themselves tied 1-1 heading into the first intermission after a defensive breakdown allowed veteran forward Jarome Iginla to crash the net for a tip-in that knotted the score.
“It seems like we are having lapses,” captain Ryan Callahan said, after what could potentially be his last game as a Ranger. “Teams are capitalizing on us when we have those.”
The Rangers pulled within a goal before the second period was over on Brad Richards’ wrist shot from the right circle with 3:07 to go, but the Blueshirts managed little offensively afterward against rock-solid Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. Rask was terrific in making 39 saves for the night and helping the Bruins complete a series sweep against the Rangers.
And just like last spring, when the Bruins dispatched the Blueshirts handily in five games during the Eastern Conference semifinals, Boston’s fourth line gave them fits.
Gritty winger Gregory Campbell tallied twice in the third period before bruising winger Milan Lucic tipped Matt Bartkowski’s shot for the Bruins’ sixth goal of the night with 1:36 to play, one that would seal the victory for Boston.
“Painful. Extremely painful,” Lundqvist said. “I thought we played pretty good. Yeah, they worked hard, but their goals were unbelievable with the bounces they got, a couple of deflections and a post and in. It’s a tough end to this game.”
Coach Alain Vigneault was similarly unperturbed by the team’s play, as he too chalked up the loss to some bad bounces. But, the fact remains that in suffering back-to-back losses, the Rangers also surrendered critical ground in the Metropolitan Division standings, where the Flyers leap-frogged them for second place and the Washington Capitals pulled within a point.
“They are a good team. They are an elite team and they showed it tonight,” Vigneault said.
The Bruins did look like an elite team. And the Rangers did not. If that’s the case, what leads anyone to believe that this spring will be any different from the previous one?
“Every team will say you need to get in first, but we’ll get back to work on that. I’m confident that this group will get back to playing the full 60 minutes like we have been and we’ll get the big goals when we need them,” Richards said.
“It’s been a fun team to play on the last six, seven weeks. We’ve been doing a lot of good things. Can’t let this get [us] down. Teams go through this at different points of the season. It’s two games; we can’t let it snowball. We have to realize how we played in that first period, how dominant we were, and get back to work.”