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Rangers are one of many improved teams in the East

03.08.09 at 4:03 pm ET
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The Bruins pulled the trigger on some prudent hockey transactions to address their needs during this past week’s trade deadline, but unfortunately the Causeway Street Warriors weren’t the only Eastern Conference squad to give themselves a helping hand last Wednesday.

New York Rangers forward Sean Avery made an impact in his first game this season as a member of the Blueshirts, and newly acquired forward Nik Antropov potted his first score in a Rangers sweater during a frustrating 4-3 Sunday afternoon B’s loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Former Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris also notched an assist for the new-look Rangers, who appear to have a bit more offensive firepower with their new skaters.

Watching Avery skate around for 60 minutes of hockey and incite Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi into reacting and observing Antropov utilizing his big 6-foot-6 body to create space and opportunities in front of the net brought one big thought to the puck forefront: nearly every Bruins competitor helped themselves at the NHL trade deadline and just made the road that much tougher for the Black and Gold going forward this spring.

The sagging Montreal Canadiens acquired puck-moving defender Mathieu Schneider well before the trade deadline. The Pittsburgh Penguins finally recognized they were missing the grit of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals club, and recruited both Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin into the fold in time for their final stretch run. The sandpaper-scrappy Daniel Carcillo was shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers after racking up more than 300 penalty minutes and 13 goals for the Coyotes last season.

The Devils watched Martin Brodeur get healthy enough to come back, and got even deeper along the blueline with Niclas Havelid. Even the Florida Panthers, who seemed to be locked in a Hamlet-like struggle to decide whether they were a legitimate playoff contender, scooped up defenseman Steve Eminger for their first serious playoff drive.

In other words, nearly everyone in the East potentially improved themselves right along with the Big, Bad B’s and it’s unclear how things will eventually shake out with the roster additions up and down the standings. 

As has been the case in several of the B’s most recent losses, the Bruins found themselves scrambling madly in the last few moments of the game to tie up the Rangers and lock another point into the seasonal account. But the Bruins just couldn’t get that last push to force the game into overtime, and vulture a lonely point.

That’s a quality that countless veteran NHL hockey teams have an uncanny knack for in a close game where they find themselves down in the waning moments. Somehow, some way a team will simply shove their way into OT before eventually succumbing to their opponent, but the B’s haven’t been one of those teams recently.

In the last month the B’s have dropped one-goal games to the Rangers, Coyotes, Devils and Lightning at a portion of the season when the Devils and Capitals remained within 10 points of the Spoked B in the East — with important games in hand for each club. The Bruins clearly could have used additional points to pile on to their first place cushion. 

With some additional grit and firepower in Boston’s “new” and largely healthy lineup, the young and hungry Bruins must find a way to will themselves into overtime in some of those “close but no cigar” one goal losses that have been all too common lately.

Injury Ward: Both Stephane Yelle (undisclosed injury after falling backwards and banging his neck and shoulder into the boards) and Steve Montador (flu) missed the game for the B’s, and it’s still unclear whether Yelle will meet the team in Columbus tomorrow or Tuesday. Byron Bitz and Blake Wheeler both played a bit of center in Yelle’s absence.

Player of the Game: Chuck Kobasew scored a goal on a sweet backhanded move that tied the game at 1-1 in the second period, and laid out five hits for the Bruins on the day. It was the perfect example of the skill and scowl that Kobasew brings to the table with his fearless bumper car style on a regular basis.

Goat Horns: Manny Fernandez hasn’t looked good in his last two starts, and has allowed four goals in four of his last five appearances since coming back from a midseason back injury. Man-Fern, after losing track of the puck, was a technical mess on the Ryan Callahan tap-in goal in the second period that gave the Rangers a commanding 3-1 lead. With points at a premium, it’s going to be difficult to give Fernandez a chance to play into getting his groove back.

Turning Point:  For the second time in a big, playoff-style game against an Eastern Conference foe, a flukey play proved to be the difference in the game when an odd carom off the back boards came right back out in front of the B’s net. Nikolai Zherdev took advantage of some “right place in the right time” mojo and banged in the game-winner past Fernandez with less than seven minutes to go in the game.

Read More: Chuck Kobasew, Manny Fernandez, New York Rangers,
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