Through the various highs and lows of the 2011-12 season, one thing has held true for the Bruins: They can’t beat the Rangers.
After losing their first three meetings (0-2-1) against New York — all of which have come in the second half of the season — the Bruins, who figure to hold the second seed in the East when the playoffs begin in about a week and a half, will have their final regular-season crack at the conference’s best team Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Tim Thomas will have to deal with the lighting that he despises so much. [Side note: Thomas got criticized unfairly for that postgame comment after the March 4 game, as it wasn’t the first time he’s brought up the difficulty he has with the lights there. He answered a question last season about the pre-game festivities at Canadiens games by mentioning he didn’t like the lights at MSG.] And the Bruins will have to deal with a goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist (assuming he plays) who has dominated them (and many other teams) over the years.
This season, Lundqvist deserves not only the Vezina trophy but perhaps the Hart as well. That’s why the Bruins need to beat him Sunday. The B’s may not be considered a favorite to make it to the conference finals given how well the Penguins have played of late, but it wouldn’t come as a major shock to anyone if Boston and New York met later in the playoffs with a trip to the Cup finals on the line.
The B’s are a confident bunch either way, but they could use that piece of mind of knowing that Lundqvist, who is 3-0-0 with a 1.61 goals-against average and one shutout against Boston this season, doesn’t completely own them. Considering they’ve only beaten him once over the last two seasons, they could stand to remind themselves and everyone else that King Henrik can be defeated.
Both teams are clearly trying to make sure they’re playing their best hockey by the time the postseason starts. The B’s enter Sunday’s game with points in five straight games (4-0-1), while the Rangers, who lead the Bruins by 11 points, are winners of four straight. Though New York has beaten Boston three times and doesn’t have much to worry about as far as the standings go, the Rangers still have something to gain Sunday. They can officially clinch the Eastern Conference, and a win could give them a mental edge over the B’s should they meet later on down the road.