Dreaming of a Rangers-Bruins Postseason Series

Thanks to some awesome scheduling from the NHL, the Rangers and Bruins won’t meet again this season unless it’s in the postseason. After 12 games, the Rangers and Bruins have played their entire three-game schedule against each other for 2012-13 and it’s going to take a seven-game series this spring if the growing rivalry is going to get a new chapter this season.

With the season series coming to an end, I decided to fill the email inbox of Mike Hurley from CBS Boston with garbage until he finally responded and agreed to an email exchange. OK, so I really didn’t have to beg him since he had nothing else going on (and usually doesn’t), but he wanted me to make it sound like it was really hard to get him to do this exchange since he’s “really busy.”

Keefe: I wanted to be in Boston last night for Rangers-Bruins and I wanted to be at Halftime Pizza before the game eating the best slices in Boston (there are only one or two others place in the entire city worth eating pizza sober at) and pounding their massive draft beers that for some reason taste better than draft beers from anywhere else. But the NHL went and scheduled the second and last meeting between the two teams on a Tuesday night, so I did watch the Rangers-Bruins game and I did eat pizza and drink draft beers, but I did it over 200 miles from TD Garden.

After blowing a two-goal lead to the Bruins in the third game of the season at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers blew a three-goal lead in the last 11:16 on Tuesday night. And while you have to credit the Bruins’ heart (or their “hearts of lions” as Jack Edwards referred to it) for their miraculous late-game comeback, I’m going to also discredit the Rangers’ shot-blocking strategy, which is actually more of a negative than a positive for the team’s defense and the reason for the Bruins’ third-period effort.

Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie in the world. The best goalie in the world needs to see the puck and he needs to see the shot. He doesn’t need to be playing from behind screens and trying to anticipate whose stick the puck will end up on when Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi simultaneously sacrifice their bodies and seasons like Secret Service members trying to protect the President. Yes, the Bruins erased a three-goal deficit in the third period and scored twice with an empty net, but none of it would have been possible without some perfect rebounds courteous of too much traffic created in front of the Rangers’ net by the Rangers themselves.

The Rangers did come away with two points and managed to get four of a possible six points against the Bruins this season, but they let the Bruins pick up points in the final minutes of each of the last two games. And while it was good to see the Rangers win their third straight and win on the road in Boston, I get the feeling that no one in Boston views last night’s loss as a loss and that’s not good for the Rangers or me or anyone. These two teams will hopefully meet again this spring and the last thing the Rangers need is the Bruins believing they can always come back against them and that they are never out of a game, and despite losing twice to the Rangers, the Bruins must feel like they have the Rangers’ number. If the Bruins are practicing today, I’m sure the mood in their locker room is of a team that won on last night and not of one that lost.

I guess whenever anything goes wrong like it did in the third period there is someone to blame and someone to praise, but am I am discrediting the Bruins’ comeback too much and placing too much of the blame on the Rangers? And did you get a goody bag with your TD Garden dinner on Tuesday night that looked like everything you would find at a five-year-old’s birthday party?

Hurley: For the record, because of awful traffic due to the blizzard, I got to the Garden late and had no time for dinner, so I ate an oreo brownie, a fudge roll, a big pretzel with mustard, a cup of popcorn and a plate of M&M’s and gummy worms for dinner in the press box. I am 7 years old and everyone knows it, so it’s OK.

I do think you’re right to discredit the Rangers a bit. On 99 out of 100 nights, Anton Stralman’s weak wrister doesn’t beat Tuukka Rask, and on probably 90 out of 100 nights, Derek Stepan’s shot gets stopped easily with the glove. So on a night when they don’t have a somewhat gift-wrapped 3-goal lead, they might not be so fortunate to leave the building with two points.

That said, the Bruins do deserve some credit. They realized against that mess of bodies and No. 30 in net, the only way they were scoring was going to be on a rebound. Andrew Ference’s point shot was intentionally low, and Nathan Horton banged home the rebound. Dennis Seidenberg intentionally shot at Milan Lucic in the slot, and the redirect on Lundqvist led to an open net for David Krejci. And though Brad Marchand just got a lucky break for his goal, that was a pretty good snipe. So it’s not as if the Rangers blew the lead to the Flames or anything.

But it was a blocked shot that led to that opportunity for Marchand to score the game-tying goal, which allowed the B’s to walk away from the season series with four out of six points in the season series as well. So you’re not crazy for thinking the shot-blocking strategy can work against them. You are crazy for a lot of reasons, but not that one, I suppose.

Keefe: For the record, you told me about four hours before the game that you were going to eat healthy and detox after your brother’s wedding weekend. But really, I don’t think you had any plans other than to eat those things for dinner whether there was traffic or not.

When I see Rick Nash do the things he did to the Bruins defense and then to Tuukka Rask, I can’t help but think how they would have gotten past the Devils last May if they had traded for Nash last February. (Yes, I would still trade Chris Kreider for Nash if it was still an option.) And when I see the things that Marian Gaborik does like Nash, I can’t help, but think about how the Bruins have no one like Nash or Gaborik though Tyler Seguin will one day be Boston’s version of those two. And when I realize that the Bruins don’t have a true superstar (even though Pierre McGuire thinks Patrice Bergeron’s is one of the best players in the league), I wonder how they are so good even without Tim Thomas. But then you watch them play and you realize why they are so good.

The Bruins, for some unknown reason, find a way to score despite true scoring ability and a power play that makes even the Rangers not feel so bad about their man advantage and more importantly they find a way to win and win all types of games. I can’t explain it and I’m not sure if it’s even explainable because a team with that roster shouldn’t be this good without their best player (the Conn Smythe winner turned social media guru).

I know you’re probably going to say depth and defense and you might even talk about Claude Julien (I said “might”), but help me out here: Why are the Bruins so good? And why are they so good even without a single player whose jersey you would want to buy and wear?

Hurley: Well for one, Rask is a great goalie in his own right. He led the league in goals-against and save percentage in 2009-10, so it’s not like he’s some stiff off the street. Then you have Julien’s system, which above all else requires responsibility in your own end. That’s why Seguin barely played as a rookie — he wasn’t going to be put onto the ice until he could learn to play in the defensive system. Something tells me that as a kid, back-checking and getting sticks in passing lanes wasn’t drilled into the head of a kid as talented as Seguin.

So with that system, they’re rarely out of games. The 3-0 deficit against the Rangers was odd in that regard. And while they may not have a Steve Stamkos, they’re not short on talent up front. Nathan Horton is a big-time player. All the guy does is score big goals. The Bruins wouldn’t have made it out of the first round in 2011 if not for Horton, and his absence last spring was the reason the Bruins were wiped away in the first round.

Patrice Bergeron lacks flash, but if you were to assign grades to parts of his game, he’d get A-minuses across the board. He’s also won 63.6 percent of his faceoffs, which quietly goes a long way toward earning victories. Brad Marchand has a bad reputation for just being an agitator, but he’s a talented player who has a knack for scoring and has never been afraid of any moment or situation. David Krejci can be a wizard with the puck on his stick (still not a Marc Savard, but a decent knockoff) and Seguin is always a scoring threat every time he’s on the ice.

Add in third-liner Rich Peverley, who’d likely be a top-six forward in a lot of cities, and a fourth line that contributes while rarely making mistakes, and you just have a solid hockey team.

(I said hockey in case you were confused if I was talking about a football team or something.)

Oh, I should’ve mentioned, they’re also big on saying things like “compete level.” Julien hasn’t done an interview in the past five years without assessing his team’s compete level, and it’s spread to Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely and now everyone who talks about the team.

It means “trying hard.” Yes, the millionaire hockey players need to be rated on whether they’re trying hard or not.

Regardless of its apparent stupidity, it really seems to work. It’s very rare you see the Bruins just lay a complete stinker, and teams know when they’re playing the Bruins that they’re in for a long battle. A lot of teams can’t handle it.

Keefe: Is Andy Brickley saying “compete level” yet or is he too busy talking about “points being at a premium” the way Edzo drops “active sticks” on everyone?

Everyone is talking about the Rangers and Bruins meeting again in the postseason for the first time since the 70s, you are one of these people, but a lot of these people are saying it’s going to happen. A lot of people said this last year too, but they forgot that eight teams make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and just because people want a series to take place doesn’t it mean it will. And if it doesn’t take place in the quarterfinals then a lot has to go right for it to happen at all.

It’s been so long since these two teams have met in the playoffs and the New York-Boston rivalry has taken so many twists in the last 10 years that I don’t know what to expect if this series ever takes place and I don’t know if I even want it to. When the Yankees play the Red Sox, the Yankees are supposed to win. When the Knicks play the Celtics, the Celtics are supposed to win. When the Giants play the Patriots, the Giants always win. But what happens if these two teams meet again this year in the postseason? Who would have the upper hand? I can’t imagine this series would be good for my blood pressure especially coming in the beginning of baseball season. Maybe I will just pull for Rangers-Devils again.

Hurley: I’d like to see it happen because unofficially, without looking it up, I can state with complete confidence that every single Bruins-Rangers game in the past four years has been on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and has been a one-goal game, almost always 1-0 one way or the other. That’s all factual. Don’t look it up though.

What happens if they meet? That’s why we want them to meet — it’s impossible to predict. The Rangers have the edge in offensive firepower, but so did the Canucks in 2011. It would be captivating hockey, and honestly whichever team emerged from that series would probably be too beaten, bruised and exhausted to go on a Cup run. But I wouldn’t mind watching it. Maybe even while enjoying some Halftime.

Keefe: OK, I looked it up. Here are the last 15 Rangers-Bruins games going back to 2009-10, which are the four years you told me to not look up.

NYR 4, BOS 3 (SO)
NYR 4, BOS 3 (OT)
BOS 3, NYR 1
BOS 2, NYR 1
NYR 4, BOS 3
NYR 3, BOS 0
NYR 3, BOS 2 (OT)
NYR 5, BOS 3
NYR 1, BOS 0
BOS 3, NYR 2
NYR 3, BOS 2
BOS 2. NYR 1
NYR 3, BOS 1
NYR 3, BOS 2
NYR 1, BOS 0

That’s 11 of 15 games that were decided by one goal. You were close.

It does feel like all of their games have been on Saturday or Sunday afternoons and they were all started by Tuukka Rask, which is weird considering over that time period Tim Thomas was the best goalie in the NHL. (Well, he was according to voters, but anyone who watched Henrik Lundqvist play behind awful teams know that it was King Henrik who has been the best goalie in the league for several years now.)

Only three of those games weren’t decided after three periods and one of them was on Tuesday night. While shootouts are fun when your teams wins, they are usually a letdown unless Rick Nash gives you a YouTube-worthy goal or unless Pavel Datsyuk is participating in the shootout. You have been a strong advocate of getting rid of the shootout and I’m on board with the idea. But what’s the solution? Is it 10 minutes of 4-on-4? Is it five minutes of 4-on-4 and then five minutes of 3-on-3? How can we make it so that the action that we saw in the five minutes of overtime on Tuesday night doesn’t end abruptly to have a breakaways decide a great game?

Hurley: 1. Rask started most of those games because Timmy T couldn’t handle the lighting at MSG! Remember? The lights were different for Tim!

2. You’re such an awful person for throwing my 10-minute, 4-on-4 period in there like you thought of it. Let the record show that’s my solution.

Actually, for years I (mostly jokingly) argued that the NHL should have five minutes of 4-on-4, and if it’s still tied, then five minutes of 3-on-3, and if it’s still tied then 2-on-2, and if it’s still tied then GOALIE DEATHMATCH AT CENTER ICE.

Because that’s a little extreme, and because we’d run out of goalies pretty quickly, I propose a simple 10-minute period of 4-on-4 hockey. I freaking love 4-on-4 hockey. I’ve been to three games at the TD Garden this season that have featured full five-minute periods of overtime, and they’ve all been thrilling. It’s like taking the best players on the planet and throwing them into an arcade game for five minutes. D-men get forced out of their comfort zones to be a part of odd-man rushes, then they get stuck out of position and lead to another odd-man advantage going the other way. Goalies are forced into hyper-mode, and the game is an all-out frenzy for 300 seconds.

Then they stop it abruptly and start a breakaway contest.

It makes no sense.

If you were showing an alien around earth and wanted to introduce it to the sport of hockey, you could show it five minutes of 4-on-4 overtime and the little freak would be in love with hockey forever. Five more minutes of that, and how many ties would we really end up with? You’d have to think that with 10 minutes of all that open ice, one team is going to be able to bury one goal.

And why do we hate ties so much to begin with? Is it really because fans don’t like the feeling of going home after a tie? For one, since when does the NHL give a crap about how fans feel? But even more so, when has that ever been a consideration in a league deciding the rules which govern its standings?? That’s insane. And thirdly (I could go until 12thly but I’ll stop), don’t fans feel worse when they leave a game which their team lost in a shootout than they would if their team had just tied? This isn’t rocket science here. Why are we having shootouts?

Oh, and if you take away the automatic point of making it to overtime, with a tie resulting in one point apiece and an OT win giving two points to the victor and bupkis to the loser. That would only make that 10 minutes of 4-on-4 overtime even better.

And I’m not even someone who out and out hates the shootout. I just prefer watching hockey.

Keefe: You told me today you were going to give short, concise answers because no one wants to really hear what you have to say. So much for that like your diet.

I don’t really miss ties because I had seen my fair share of ties in real life as a child, but you’re right the NHL doesn’t care about the fan at all, so why start by eliminating ties and changing the record books and point system and goalie’s records? It doesn’t make sense. If Gary Bettman is going to be the worst commissioner to ever run a major sports league in North America, he might as well go all the way with it.

Bring back ties! Bring back the red line! Add “obstruction” to penalties again since penalties aren’t already the result of “obstructing” something! Have North America vs. the World for the All-Star Game and bring back the Goalie Goals competition to the Skills Competition! Sign a deal with FOX! Let them make the puck glow again!

The NHL.com video player is currently the worst piece of technology available and it works like something from 1999, so why not just change everything in the league back to a time when Jaromir Jagr led the league in scoring with the Penguins, Ron Tugnutt posted a 1.79 GAA and Byron Dafoe was playing goal for the Bruins? There’s a good question: What happened to Byron Dafoe? That might be an entire email exchange itself. “Bruins Goalies Between Andy Moog and Tim Thomas.” I think I know what our next email exchange will be about. And if it isn’t about that I’m sure we’ll talk again between now and Opening Day in the Bronx.

Hurley: I’m not sure what happened, but I’m nearly positive your brain just completely stopped working for a few paragraphs there. I’m not sure how it all came out in English. I don’t even know what to say. I don’t know when we’ll talk again, but how about this — don’t email me. I’ll email you.

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