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With just four games left on the regular season docket, the Bruins (44-23-11) travel to “the other Garden” tonight to face off with Original Six rival, the New York Rangers (42-32-5).
The Northeast Division title may now be wrapped up for the Black and Gold, but there’s still a lot up for grabs in terms of playoff positioning for Boston. With 99 points in the standings and four games left to play, the B’s find themselves just four points behind Philadelphia and Washington, who are tied atop the conference with 103 points a piece. The B’s also have a game in hand on both the Flyers and Caps, meaning that top seed in the East is not completely out of reach.
On the flip side, New York is still very hungry for points, as they cling to their playoff lives each and every time they hit the ice. The Rangers currently occupy the East’s eighth and final playoff spot, just two points ahead of ninth place Carolina. New York could also catch both Montreal or Buffalo to move up (one seed for now) in the standings, leaving the Blueshirts as one of Boston’s potential first round playoff opponents.
Before they drop the puck in the Big Apple tonight, let’s get you ready for the action with some pre-game notes…
Tonight marks the fourth and final meeting between these two Original Six members. All three previous games have been decided by just one goal, with New York topping Boston in two of those three matchups. In their last game just over a week ago, Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist notched his league-leading 11th shutout at TD Garden, besting the B’s, 1-0 on March 26th.
Both teams are coming off exciting 3-2 victories over the weekend. Boston won a back-and-forth affair over Atlanta in a Saturday matinee on Causeway Street, on the heels of a third period penalty shot goal by Michael Ryder, while yesterday, the Rangers were able to earn two much-needed points in a shootout win over division rival Philadelphia.
Shawn Thornton, the recipient of a nasty looking 40-stitch forehead gash early last week, missed his second straight game Saturday, and will likely be unavailable for tonight’s skate as well. Thornton, who did travel with the team to Manhattan, skated with a few of his teammates at this morning’s optional team skate, but will likely need another day or two before he’ll be cleared to return to game action.
One Bruin who did return to game action over the weekend was veteran defenseman Shane Hnidy. The 35-year-old blueliner appeared in his first game of the season Saturday against Atlanta, with head coach Claude Julien opting to give Adam McQuaid a rest day in favor of the giving “The Sheriff” some ice time. Hnidy, who played well in his limited playing time Saturday, is likely to remain a healthy scratch when the team begins their playoff run.
Also on Saturday, rookie Brad Marchand was awarded NESN’s Seventh Player Award, a nod given annually to the Bruin that went above and beyond the call of duty and exceeded all expectations during the regular season. As voted on by the fans, Marchand joins past winners like Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, and Milan Lucic. The 22-year-old winger has 21 goals and 20 assists in 72 games for Boston this season. His 41 points ranks him seventh among NHL rookies and his five shorthanded goals rank him in a tie for second league-wide. Marchand has six points (2G, 4A) in his last six games.
Flipping over to the opponents’ side, New York’s scoring is led by center Brandon Dubinsky (23G, 29A), and wingers Ryan Callahan (23G, 24A) and Marian Gaborik (22G, 24A).
Their goaltending is headed up by Henrik Lundqvist (34-26-5, 2.26GAA). His usual backup Martin Biron is out with an injury, so the Rangers have called up Chad Johnson to act as the team’s #2 netminder. Johnson, who wears number 29 but has not considered changing his last name to “Veinte y Nueve,” a la Mr. Ochocinco, has played just one period at the NHL level this season, giving up two goals on 11 shots.