Bruins could see Rangers in playoffs

BOSTON -- The last two games for the Boston Bruins have been good tests with the Stanley Cup playoffs quickly approaching.

After a 1-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday at TD Garden, and a 7-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, the Bruins now have a pretty good indication what they could be facing in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in less than a month.

With only eight games remaining in the regular season, Boston appears to be a lock for the No. 3 seed, with the Canadiens, Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning all battling for spots 5 through 7.

Ask any player or any coach in the NHL about potential playoff matchups and they all will answer the same way, saying once the postseason begins it's totally different than the regular season. Behind closed doors, however, you can be certain it's being discussed.

After New York's victory Saturday, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said his team is not thinking about a specific playoff opponent, rather making sure it's focused on its game. Still, New York's win will leave an impression for both the Rangers and the Bruins if these clubs meet at any point during the playoffs.

"I think anytime you can win in someone else's building you can draw from that, knowing you were able to do it in the past. It is a big win in a lot of ways," Stall said.

While the Bruins and Canadiens concluded their season series last Thursday, New York will host Boston on April 4 at Madison Square Garden.

"They're a hard-grinding team like the Montreal Canadiens, but [the Rangers] are a little bigger, but not as quick," said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. "New York sticks to a program. They forecheck hard and grind it out in the corners. We didn't have enough jump and didn't get into the dirty areas and won the puck battles we needed to."

The Bruins and Rangers are similar teams and play a comparable style. Both clubs are big, physical and gritty and Saturday's result was an indication how a playoff series would be between the two Original Six teams.

"They're a big team. They're a hard-working team, they're a grinding team," Claude Julien said prior to Saturday's game. "They play with a lot of passion and I think it makes for some interesting matchups. They've got a great goaltender [Henrik Lundqvist] that keeps them in every game. So it should make for an interesting matchup with us all the time."

If the Bruins face the Canadiens, it would be an intense and emotional series, especially given the storied rivalry and the recent incidents between the clubs. If Boston could win a series like that, it could set the tone for a serious run at the Stanley Cup. But it could be a mentally draining series, too.

Boston and New York would pound the heck out of each other and the games would be low-scoring contests, similar to Saturday's 1-0 win for the Rangers.

"Those guys battled really hard today, blocking shots and focusing on their defensive play," Seidenberg said. "They got one goal early and just stuck to their program and blocked as many shots as they could, and we didn't get enough traffic to the front of the net."

Boston finally sustained some offensive pressure, starting midway through the third period, but the Bruins couldn't capitalize as Lundqvist made 26 saves and posted his league-leading 11th shutout of the season.

"Some teams and buildings you have better luck," Lundqvist said. "I feel comfortable here. Also, the team plays solid here. It's a combination of a lot."

The two points were crucial for the Rangers, but beating the Bruins could serve as a confidence booster if the teams do meet in the playoffs.

"We are trying to get into the playoffs. We don't want to take anything for granted," said Rangers forward Brian Boyle. "There are a few teams that are a potential playoff matchup against us. These teams are playing good hockey right now, so we are just coming out and trying to get a win. We are not going to treat it any differently, and if we meet in the playoffs, we might have the same mentality."

Julien wasn't about to blame Saturday's loss on any sort of emotional let down after Boston completely dismantled the Canadiens on Thursday night at the Garden.

"That would be a weak excuse," he said. "We're not going to use that as an excuse. This is a time of year you've got to make sure you push those games aside. There are going to be a lot of emotional games coming up and we've got to be able to respond night after night."

After concluding a three-game homestand, the week doesn't get any easier for the Bruins as they travel to Philadelphia to face the Flyers on Sunday night.

"That's often a good thing," Julien said of the quick turnaround. "We don't have time to dwell on this one here, we've got to turn page and win a big game [Sunday] in Philadelphia. You've had a tough week against some pretty good hockey clubs and if you can come out 3-1 on the week, it's been a pretty good week and that's what we have to focus on. Let's turn the page on this one, and hopefully be a better team [Sunday]."

The Bruins have to play every game like it's a playoff game because every other team is playing that way right now, especially the Rangers and Canadiens.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.