BOSTON -- After the latest battle between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, neither side was content with the way it played.
Considering that the New York Rangers won 3-0, obviously the Boston Bruins have more room for improvement than the only team ahead of them in the conference standings. The first-place Rangers rode 42 saves by Henrik Lundqvist and goals by three players to their second win in as many tries against the defending Stanley Cup champions at the TD Garden on Tuesday night.
Boston officially attempted 79 shots to the Rangers' 31, with New York blocking 22 shots and the Bruins firing 15 others off target. To Bruins coach Claude Julien, however, those statistics didn't tell the story.
"We certainly could have done more [to test Lundqvist], but I think, you look at our team right now, and it's certainly not the team we're used to seeing, identity-wise and everything else," said Julien, whose club is 5-5-1 in its last 11. "You can shoot 42 shots on net, and it may look good on paper vs. 20, but the mistakes, the identity, the battles. I think they won more battles than we did tonight, especially in their own end, so certainly not good enough for the Boston Bruins."
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara took an unusual delay-of-game penalty that led to Ryan Callahan's power-play goal in the first period. Tyler Seguin wasn't positioned where he needed to be to receive Patrice Bergeron's breakout pass, which turned into a Ryan McDonagh steal and goal just before the first 20 minutes were through. Artem Anisimov cashed in on a 2-on-1 after Joe Corvo failed to recognize during a 4-on-4 that Boston's forwards were both down low and the Bruins blueliner pinched and missed the puck.
Julien said that if his team's going to turn things around, it has to start at the defensive end.
"We're a checking team that scores. That's our identity," he said. "We're a checking team that scores, but right now, we're not checking and we're not scoring. We've got to get back to get back to checking, and checking is playing a lot harder, winning battles, and being really hard to score against, and when you do that, then teams get frustrated like we did tonight, make a few mistakes, and it ends up in the net. So they beat us at our own game."
The game the Bruins usually succeed at also features All-World play from one of their goaltenders. That's what the Rangers continued to get from Lundqvist on a night that his team didn't play up to its standards in front of him.
"He was not going to let a puck in," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of Lundqvist after he took the NHL lead with his seventh shutout of the season. "You could sense that. It was a game where we need that because we were sloppy. He was absolutely fantastic."
Callahan provided Lundqvist with all the offensive support he needed with a tap-in of a Michael Del Zotto feed 10:09 into the game on a power play. Although the Bruins outshot them 14-5 in the second period, the Rangers doubled their lead when McDonagh's wrist shot from the left wall deflected off a stick and then Chara's pants before it eluded Tim Thomas (17 saves) 12 seconds before the first intermission.
The shots battle got even worse for the Rangers in the third, as Boston outshot them 18-3. However, Lundqvist was up to the task and the rebounds and quality chances were few and far between.
"I don't think tonight was one of our best nights, holding onto pucks down low or creating chances," said Callahan, who has six goals in his last four games. "They had a lot of time in our end, but we defended well. Obviously that's a huge part of that win. You know, you need that throughout the year. [Lundqvist's] going to have to take games for us and we're going to have to defend well in games when we aren't holding onto pucks. Then, you know, we're opportunistic and we'll get some goals when we get some chances. So, you know, it's another win for us and another two points."
Anisimov beat Thomas with a wrist shot from the right circle 2:53 into the third.
The Rangers, who last month squeaked out a 3-2 overtime win in Boston, now have a nine-point cushion on Boston with the Bruins holding one game in hand. While the lead might seem comfortable, the Rangers aren't thinking as though they have the conference title in their grasp just yet.
"There are a lot of games to be played," Callahan said. "I mean, teams go on streaks, you know, things can happen. That is not on our mind at all. We are worried about the Chicago Blackhawks now. We play them Thursday. We just have to keep rolling and keep playing well. The thing for us is that we need to keep improving, too. We can't be happy with the way we are playing now. We've got to keep improving. Teams are going to get better and hockey is going to get harder this late in the season."