Rangers-Bruins Brings Out War of Words Again

New York Rangers at Boston Bruins

Tuesday night was about as bad as a game could be for Rangers. Coming off 12 wins in 13 games, five straight wins and a California sweep, the Rangers never got going against the Islanders and got embarrassed at home in a 3-0 loss as Henrik Lundqvist watched the third period from the bench. But there’s no time for the Rangers to worry or reflect on what happened against their New York rival because the Capitals keep winning and the Rangers need to make the most of their games in hand on the rest of the Metropolitan.

For the first time in over 10 months, the Rangers will play the Bruins on Thursday night in Boston just as the Bruins are riding a five-game winning streak and playing their best hockey of the year. Mike Miccoli, who covers the Bruins for The Hockey Writers and was also my freshman year of college roommate, joined me for an email exchange to talk about what has happened to the Bruins since their postseason loss to the Canadiens, the job security of Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien, what’s happening in the Eastern Conference this season and the thinking of Boston sports fans.

Keefe: It’s the middle of January and the Rangers and Bruins are meeting for the first time this season. The NHL always gets things right! With the two teams finally meeting for the first time since March 2, 2014, it means we get to talk Rangers-Bruins.

I was ready for the demise of the Bruins on Jan. 4 after they had just dropped their third straight game in either overtime or the shootout and had lost four of their last five overall. Since then, the Bruins have won four straight and look to be back on track.

But even with the Bruins finding their game, this season hasn’t been as easy for them as the last four have been and judging by your highs and lows on Twitter, it’s getting to you.

Are you worried about the Bruins?

Miccoli: There are certain things that I look forward to in January: the annual AFC Championship game with the New England Patriots, the release of Dave Matthews Band’s summer tour dates and a pretty successful month for the Boston Bruins. Since Claude Julien became head coach, the Bruins have an average winning percentage of .591 in January. It’d be a much higher number too, if they didn’t go 3-9-2 in January of the 2009-10 season, but I’m still pretty sure that year never actually happened.

This season is no different. The Bruins don’t know what it’s like to play a game in 2015 and not pickup a point. They’re 4-0-2 in January, and as you said, have won four straight. It’s unfortunate that the Rangers are beginning to cool off just as they’re running into a Bruins team that is playing their best hockey of the season. The team is finally healthy and is beginning to play more like they won a high seed in the playoffs rather than a high draft pick in this year’s lottery. Plus, David Pastrnak is on fire. I wish you could be here in Boston and see the statue that’s being constructed of him right next to Bobby Orr’s. It’s going to be so big that it might knock down Halftime Pizza across the street. Nobody will miss it.

So to answer your question, no, I’m not worried about the Bruins. At least not right now.

Keefe: I have always thought the Bobby Orr statue was a letdown. The statue itself is great … it’s just small and in a terrible location. Here is arguably the greatest hockey player, the most talented human being to ever wear skates and he has this tiny statue on Causeway Street in the shadows of the ugly concrete disaster that is the TD Garden and across the street from what used to be T.G.I Friday’s where there is a Dunkin Donuts, a weird ticket store and some homeless people asking for change and doing drugs outside that sketchy liquor store. IT’S NUMBER FOUR, BOBBY ORR! SHOW THE MAN SOME RESPECT! Then again, I guess there really isn’t a place to put the statue around the Garden. What a weird, oddly-planned area. I wish they would put the T back above ground there, re-open Hooters where North Star or DJ’s or whatever bar is there now and give the area some character. Maybe the best spot for it would be down the street on Staniford Street outside of Domino’s where I still remember the number by heart from freshman year. 617-248-0100. I just typed that without googling it. Is that disgusting? Do you want to get a 5-5-5 with me and play MVP Baseball on PS2? Anyway, back to real life, where we aren’t 18 and our only responsibility is to go to class between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and then take an elevator down eight floors to eat whatever we want.

I hope the Rangers aren’t cooling off. Sure, they were embarrassed by the Islanders on Tuesday night at home after embarrassing the state of California’s hockey teams, but they have still won 12 of 14 games and have played the least amount of games in the entire league and a few games in hand on all of the teams they are chasing. If they win those games in hand, they will be out of the miserable wild-card spot they are in now and back to not worrying about making the playoffs.

But when it comes to the Rangers, it’s always about worrying about making the playoffs up until the beginning of April. You have had the luxury of not worrying about that in the last few years, but the way the Atlantic is shaping up, you might have to worry about this year. Imagine, no playoffs for the Bruins? The people of Boston will have to watch baseball again!

Miccoli: Did we go to class? (Hi, Mom and Dad and Neil’s parents – we did go to class.)

Now that you’ve mentioned the 5-5-5 and ruined any semblance of an appetite that I’ll have for the rest of the day, I can tell you that the Bruins are going to make playoffs.

I mean, I think I will. If they don’t, say goodbye to Peter Chiarelli and a slew of other roster players. Since Charlie Jacobs was named CEO, replacing his father of course, he made it pretty clear that anything less than the postseason for the Bruins is a failure. It’s true, too. There’s no way that a team a season removed from winning the Presidents’ Trophy should be missing the playoffs. While they weren’t really replaced, Jarome Iginla, Johnny Boychuk and Shawn Thornton won’t sway a team’s trajectory that drastically.

Since Jacobs’ remarks, the Bruins have won four straight and have generally returned to form. Boston has been consistently inconsistent this season but for what it’s worth, I think that the team you’re seeing now is what you’ll see going forward.

The Rangers, on the other hand, won’t be a wild-card team either. You know how I feel about the Rangers, overrating them and everything, but I do agree that they’ve looked good and have proven that theory by beating good hockey clubs. The most recent 3-0 loss to the Islanders notwithstanding, the Rangers are a team who could very well surprise a lot of teams in the East. I’ve always thought Rick Nash was the most overrated player in the NHL, but this year he has been worth every cent for New York.

Keefe: Three years ago at this time, I spent all of January and February campaigning for the Rangers to trade for Rick Nash and I didn’t care what it took. Chris Kreider? Send him to Columbus. Brandon Dubinsky? I will pack his bags for him. Artem Anisimov? I will buy his plane ticket? Send them all and more and all the draft picks it will take. Unfortunately, the Rangers didn’t pull the trigger until five months later, in the middle of the summer, after they had been eliminated by the Devils in six games in the Eastern Conference finals.

My reasoning for trading for Nash was that the Rangers were one player short (a pure goal scorer short) of reaching and potentially winning the Cup and they couldn’t keep wasting years of Henrik Lundqvist’s prime by giving him a team around him that couldn’t win games without Lundqvist standing on his head. Once the lucky bounces stopped going the Rangers’ way, they were eliminated by the Devils because they didn’t have a player that could take over games with talent and not through bounces.

This year my Rick Nash campaign has finally be justified. He is on pace for a 53-goal season, which would be his personal best, and he hasn’t been mired by concussions (KNOCK ON ALL OF THE WOOD IN THE WORLD) the way he was the last two seasons. He has been the Rick Nash of old and the one I was willing to sacrifice the future of the team for before the 2011-12 trade deadline.

The thing about not having him in that 2011-12 season was that I knew that Rangers team could go far and didn’t know the next time they would get that far. Last season, of course, they went even farther and lost in the Final, and it got me thinking about how many things had to go their way to reach the Final and what would have needed to go their way to win it (not blowing two-goal leads and scoring in overtime in the future would be a good start). The Bruins have played in the Final in two of the last four seasons, but do you ever get nervous about the next time they could get back there?

Miccoli: Yes and no. I think that the East is always so wide open that one of maybe five teams every year have a fighting chance. I think it’s starting to turn a little bit this year with the way that the Islanders and Lightning have been playing, but for the most part, I consider the Bruins and Rangers right in that mix, too. I don’t know when the Bruins will get back to the Stanley Cup Final. I don’t think it’s going to be this season, but I think it probably should have been last season. In 2013-14, the Bruins went all-in and were eliminated prematurely by a team that they really never could beat, the Montreal Canadiens.

You see, I think there are certain teams that just know how to beat others. For the Bruins, it’s the Canadiens. Aside from circumstances where there are special variables (eg. Tim Thomas and Nathan Horton in 2011), one team will usually always get the better of the other. Even when the Canadiens weren’t very good a few years ago, they always gave the Bruins trouble. This pattern transcends hockey, too. The Patriots suck against the Jets. The Red Sox are generally mediocre against Yankees. Had the Bruins not faced the Canadiens last season, they would’ve won the Cup. I sincerely think that.

I think their inconsistencies and injuries this season really set them back. They probably weren’t going to run wild on the league again in 2014-15, but they were a sure bet to win the Atlantic Division and make a good run in the playoffs barring any run-ins with … you know. Because they’re a bit further back this far in, I don’t know if a Cup Final is likely. Regardless, the team is built around Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara for now. Within the next season or two, it’ll be Dougie Hamilton instead of Chara. Much like the Rangers were in 2011-12, the Bruins are missing that scoring touch. No one really knows who steps up. Don’t even get me going on the cap issues this team has that’s preventing them from tweaking the lineup.

Keefe: So I take it you aren’t a fan of the new playoff format instituted last season since it pretty much guarantees that the Bruins and Canadiens will meet a lot in the first round?

I think the craziest part about the Bruins still maintaining their success is their lack of scoring. Right now they have Brad Marchand with 12 goals and Patrice Bergeron with 10 as their leading scorers and then no one else in double digits. It’s not uncommon to have only a handful of guys in double digits at the halfway point of the season, but it’s uncommon to only have two when those two only have 22 goals combined and are the team’s best scorers.

It wasn’t too long ago that both Chiarelli and Julien were on the hot seat and close to being fired by the Bruins. And when you think about the fact that in the 2010-11 playoffs that the Bruins had to overcome a 2-0 hole to the Canadiens and then win a Game 7, win a Game 7 against the Lightning and then overcome a 2-0 hole to the Canucks and win another Game 7 all in the same postseason, those two were one lucky bounce from no longer being with the Bruins. At least Claude was.

Now it seems like they are both back on the hot seat. I’m not sure if it’s deserved, but they are. But people in Boston are insane and even more insane than people in New York. There were probably people calling for Julien’s job the season after winning the Cup, the way there were people writing and talking about the Red Sox’ roster for 2014 within a week of the team winning the most improbable championship in sports history. People are nuts and I think most of those people live in Boston.

Miccoli: The new playoff format is for the birds.

I don’t understand the Julien argument but you’re right, it’s definitely there. Boston is a “What have you done for me lately?” city and it’s pretty insufferable. Julien is a very good coach, albeit defensive-minded. I think there are certain quirks that bother some people but at the end of the day, he’s the right choice for the team going forward.

The Bruins aren’t able to take on much salary because they can’t move anyone due to so many players having NTC or NMC. And the one move they did make to start the season, trading Johnny Boychuk, ended up burning them pretty badly. With that in the back of his head, I think Chiarelli hesitant to make a move just for the sake of doing it. He’s been preaching patience for awhile and it has pissed off fans here because the team wasn’t winning.

They were right, too. The Bruins weren’t playing good hockey and seemed lifeless for a while, but that shouldn’t be all on Julien, it should be on the players. Like I said earlier, this might be the turning point but who knows. This team shouldn’t have regressed as much as they did so maybe this is Boston bouncing back. I get it and it’s reasonable to be upset over being a bubble team, but the fever pitch here really is at an all-time high.

Keefe: For someone who started this email exchange by saying they aren’t worried about the Bruins, you sound pretty worried about the Bruins. Well, maybe not worried, but you don’t seem confident.

About nine months ago, the Bruins were the best team in the Eastern Conferance and maybe the best tem in the entire league and the team to beat in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And now here we are with the general manager and head coach on the hot seat, one of their best defensemen playing for the Islanders because of salary-cap issues, their two leading scorers having 22 goals combined through 44 games and everyone in Boston freaking out about the team. I don’t think anyone saw this coming last spring when the Bruins when the Bruins had a 3-2 series lead over the Canadiens.

But like you also said, the Bruins shouldn’t have regressed as badly as they did through the first half of the season and maybe this is them turning it on. If not, at least you have the Patriots. My football season ended in October.

Miccoli: You’re right. Reading back and this is all over the place (much like the Bruins’ season – ha! Hilarious, Mike!).

I guess what I should say is that expectations have been adjusted for the team and since then, they’ve been fine. I’m trying to pinpoint the exact date when people started to realize that the Bruins might not be one of the NHL’s elite teams anymore. Could have been this offseason when Loui Eriksson was projected to be the first-line winger, or maybe when Chara and Krejci got hurt around the same time. I think the idea became more solidified when they traded away Boychuk for two second-round picks just before the season began.

The Bruins are still a good team, but until they start going on a tear, similar to what the Rangers did, they’re going to be questioned. I believe they’ll make the playoffs and maybe pull off an upset or two depending on who they face, but expectations should be altered. I think they’ll beat the Rangers on Thursday because they’re playing well and because Henrik Lundqvist and Derek Stepan aren’t on the ice. I can’t say much about the luck the Bruins have had with playing teams missing important players since they’ve on the opposite end of that for most of the season.

Are you even watching the game on Sunday? Have you converted to rooting for a team that’s actually good in consecutive years? Have you considered cutting the sleeves off of a hoodie?

Keefe: I will be watching the game on Sunday after thankfully missing the Patriots’ win over the Ravens, but I’m a Seahawks fan from here on out because they are the only team remaining that I feel confident about beating the Patriots.

When it comes to the Giants, well, let’s hope they are better than they were this year. And that goes for the Yankees too.

Let’s go Colts! And if they can’t do it … Let’s go Seahawks! or Let’s go Packers! The Super Bowl drought needs to reach 10 years.

Miccoli: The Make Way for Ducklings statues in the Public Garden are wearing “Do Your Job” cut-off Patriots hoodies for the game. I’ll never understand why you don’t enjoy adorable things. Come May, they might be wearing Bruins jerseys as the flowers bloom. That’s one of the best characteristics about this city – there’s always a team winning. I look forward to when I’m in my 40s and I have to tell my young children about these times to cheer them up when they’re rooting for teams who are so miserably bad.

Keefe: I look forward to that day because the run Boston has been on has lasted too long. Where are the 90s when you need them? Not only was it the best decade for music, TV and movies, but it was also dominated by the Yankees. I wish I could go back to that time. The 2000s haven’t been as fun.

Miccoli: The 90s were okay at best and vastly overrated much like the … ah, forget it. Good luck on Thursday night!

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