It was the same story, with the same result, for the Rangers.
No matter how many grade-A chances are generated or how many pucks are perfectly deflected, it’s the finish that wins games — and the Rangers didn’t have enough of that Thursday night at the Garden against the NHL-leading Bruins. It resulted in a 3-1 loss, which probably stung more in a game in which they were looking to size themselves up against the league’s best.
The measuring stick looked awfully daunting with a glaring zero on the jumbotron next to their logo for 55:37 of the 60-minute contest, but the Rangers didn’t exactly get swept off the ice despite what the score indicated. Boston goaltender Jeremy Swayman had to work for his 11th win of the season with 31 occasionally challenging saves.
It wasn’t challenging enough, evidently. Defenseman Ben Harpur may have ended Swayman’s shutout bid with his first goal as a Ranger off a wrister from the top of the left faceoff circle at 15:37 of the third period, but the Blueshirts weren’t difficult enough to defend.
The Bruins, who were playing on the back end of a back-to-back, are an unstoppable force, with one goal and one goal only: To dismantle their opponents. They strip teams of everything they think makes them good and smother them in the process. The Rangers struggled to create space for themselves, and looked discombobulated at times thanks to Boston’s forecheck and relentless pursuit of the puck.
That’s not to say that the Rangers didn’t have their looks. In fact, they outshot the Bruins 32-27 and generated ample opportunities in each period. The puck just didn’t want to go in, as a few Rangers have said before this season.
Artemi Panarin, in particular, put the puck on net every way he could. Finishing with a team-high nine attempts and six scoring chances in 15:18 of ice time, Panarin just couldn’t score. Such has been the case for the Rangers as a team on several occasions this season: Many grade-A chances with no results.
Less than five minutes into the second period, Patrice Bergeron made it a 2-0 game on a wrister from the top of the circles.
Pavel Zacha struck first for the visitors, tipping in a point shot from David Krejci 1:19 into the game to set the tone. The Rangers may have been on their heels to start, but they were forced to buckle down when they found themselves down two players for 1:42 toward the end of the opening period.
Not only did the Rangers emerge unscathed, but they generated some much-needed momentum. No shots went in, and the Blueshirts finished the period strong with some quality scoring chances, including a redirection of an Artemi Panarin feed from Chris Kreider that Swayman denied at the buzzer.
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