NEW YORK – The Boston Bruins are on the brink of the Eastern Conference finals, and they got there on the backs of their suddenly offensive defensemen and a potent fourth line of forwards.
They have outclassed the New York Rangers all over the ice in surging to a 3-0 lead in a series that could be over Thursday.
If the Bruins start firing on all cylinders, the Rangers will have little hope of even forcing a Game 5 let alone entertaining thoughts of matching the greatest comeback in sports.
The Bruins could afford to relax Wednesday, and many of them did, as the team held an optional practice at Madison Square Garden — the site of Boston’s 2-1 comeback win a night earlier that pushed the Rangers within one loss of elimination.
New York also got back on the ice at its suburban practice facility, and it was clear the sting of Tuesday night’s disheartening defeat lingered.
The Rangers are just over one week removed from back-to-back shutouts by Henrik Lundqvist in Games 6 and 7 against the Washington Capitals in the first round, but those good times feel a whole lot longer ago now.
Any kind of comeback now starts with Game 4 in New York. Three teams have recovered from an 0-3 hole to win an NHL series.
“We’re not looking at odds or anything like that,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. “We’re looking at one game at home, and we’ll try to bring this thing back to Boston. That’s the only way we can look at it, to try to win one game in our building.”
The Bruins want to cut this short and not give the Rangers any reason to believe. New York trailed Washington 2-0 in the opening round and then 3-2 before advancing.
There is history hanging over Boston, including a blown 3-0 lead to Philadelphia in a series loss in 2010 and a squandered 3-1 edge in this year’s first round to Toronto before the Bruins rallied to win Game 7.
“You learn from the past, but you live in the moment. You don’t live in the past,” Bruins Coach Claude Julien said. “I like where our team is right now. We’re certainly not looking at it the way other people will look at it — trying to find reasons to give New York some hope, saying ‘These guys have done this, these guys have had trouble doing this.’
“We’re certainly not even going there.”
Rangers forwards Darroll Powe and Arron Asham were on that Philadelphia team that stunned the Bruins with an epic comeback in 2010.
While several players said Wednesday they believe this series can still be won, the mantra was the same as it has been all season — following the words of Coach John Tortorella that the focus must be completely on the next game.
“Obviously, we can’t win four games (Thursday) night. We have to focus on just the task at hand, which is coming out strong on our first shift,” said Powe, who is currently sidelined by injury. “We go shift by shift, we just chip away. You’ve got to try to win every shift. That’s how we’re going to get back in the series.”
The Rangers had been 3-0 at home in the playoffs and had won nine straight at Madison Square Garden, dating to the regular season.
Tuesday’s loss was their first in regulation in which they led going into the third period since February 2010.
A fluke goal with 3:31 remaining by fourth-liner Daniel Paille, who put in a puck Lundqvist never saw, made the disappointment that much greater. Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk scored his fourth goal of the postseason earlier in the third with a shot that might have clipped forward Shawn Thornton — Paille’s bruising linemate along with Gregory Campbell.
That was enough to give the Bruins their second one-goal win of the series.
Paille had a goal and assist in Game 3 for his first points of the series. Thornton assisted on both goals, to get himself on the score sheet for the first time against the Rangers, and Campbell had an assist on the winner to go along with a goal he scored in Game 2.
The Rangers would be happy to get offense from anywhere. After busting out in a 5-0 win in Game 7 against the Capitals, New York has been held to five total goals in three games against goalie Tuukka Rask and the rest of the Bruins.
New York seemed to lack the required energy and urgency to take advantage in Game 4. The Rangers have also failed to capitalize on an injured Boston defense that is using three rookies with success.
“I like our team,” Tortorella said. “We’ve got good people. We need to have more people playing more minutes, consistently. We’ll be ready to play. I hope we get to another level of desperation. That’s not just running around all over the place, it’s about winning those battles at key times.”
While injured Bruins defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and Wade Redden continue to practice and move closer to returning, the Rangers are dealing with the loss of defenseman Anton Stralman, who got hurt when he was checked hard Tuesday night by Milan Lucic and left the game in the second period.
His status for Game 4 is questionable at best. If he sits out, the Rangers could turn to Roman Hamrlik or Matt Gilroy.