The prospect of claiming the first Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference championship since 1994 was theirs for the taking. All they had to do was earn one point against a team that they had beaten three times in the regular season.
“It [stinks] to lose,” Brian Boyle said after the Rangers kept the Penguins on life support by dropping a 2-1 decision to the Bruins on a night in which beloved Blueshirts Vic Hadfield and Sergei Nemchinov were in the house.
The Rangers entered the game needing one point to clinch both the Atlantic Division and the top spot in the conference, after Philadelphia’s wild 6-4 win over the Pittsburgh earlier in the day. The Rangers have three mores chances to clinch the division and the conference beginning Tuesday night in Philadelphia. The Rangers are 5-0 against the Flyers this season.
“[Today] will be positive,” Boyle said. The Rangers still have the best record in the league. “We’ll come back to work and I’m sure it will be a little easier.”
Marian Gaborik scored the Rangers lone goal just 4:33 into the match with his 40th of the season. He corralled a loose puck in the defensive zone which had ricocheted off of Boston right wing Jordan Caron and outraced Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg before snapping a shot past Tim Thomas.
It marked the second time in his Rangers tenure that Gaborik scored 40 goals. He joined Mike Gartner (three times) and Jean Ratelle (twice) as the only players to score 40 goals in multiple seasons with the Rangers.
“It’s how he’s played this year. He’s been consistent all year long. Good for him. It’s been a great year for him,” John Tortorella said of the right wing.
However that was all the Rangers could muster as the Bruins clogged the middle of the ice. The majority of the Rangers’ 34 shots came from the perimeter, allowing Tim Thomas (33 saves) a relatively stress-free evening.
“They do a pretty good job,” Boyle said of Boston’s defensive effort.
Added Tortorella: “Thomas was pretty good. He looked pretty good. The last [save] he made on [Artem] Anisimov was just a great save.”
The Bruins scored both of their goals in the second period. Seidenberg tied the game 1-1 four minutes in with a slapshot from the point. Patrice Bergeron potted the game-winner 7:52 when he stuffed a power play goal between the post and Henrik Lundqvist’s (20 saves) right leg. Tyler Seguin set up Bergeron by poking the puck off of Dan Girardi’s stick in the left corner.
“Dan’s play is one of those plays where if he makes it, you say ‘great play.’ It deflects and they score,” said Tortorella, who added that he had “no problem with the way [the Rangers] played [last night].”
The game started as a chess match, but evolved into a physical affair, highlighted by a sequence late in the second period. Boyle and Chara engaged in a wrestling match in the defensive end. As the play moved up ice, Boyle checked Chris Kelly along the boards, then drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from Shawn Thornton.
“It was a physical game — two pretty physical teams. We play really similar. They play a gritty hard game, in your face right throughout their lineup and we play the same way,” Boyle said. “It’s a good matchup.”
The Rangers won the regular season series 3-1. They outscored the Bruins, 11-7, in the four games.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman as the Rangers gear up for the Stanley Cup playoffs.