EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2013

Bruins, Rangers make for best current New York-Boston rivalry

On Pro Hockey
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Thank goodness hockey is back.

The Boston vs. New York rivalry was in need of a major boost.

That infusion of energy arrived last night in the way of a 3-1 Bruins victory over the New York Rangers. And it’s about time.

After all, the Red Sox lost 13 of 18 games vs. the Yankees on their way to last place in the AL East in 2012.

The Patriots outscored the Jets, the laughingstock of the NFL, a combined 78-45 in two games this season.

Yes, Celtics/Knicks is decent but, but no one will confuse their rivalry with the likes of Celtics/Heat and Celtics/Lakers.

Rangers vs. Bruins, on the other hand — now we’re talking.

This rivalry should provide oodles of excitement this year. It certainly did last night when Shawn Thornton punched Mike Rupp to the ice after a lengthy fight, then Gregory Campbell and Stu Bickel got into their own slugfest immediately after the next puck dropped.

The game was a close one the whole way here at the TD Garden with the Bruins prevailing on goals by Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille and Johnny Boychuk.

Welcome back hockey. Welcome back Bruins/Rangers. We missed you.

Both these physical opponents should finish in the top three of the Eastern Conference without question and make deep runs in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Bruins are No. 1 in the NHL.com Super 16 power rankings, while the Rangers are third. ESPN NHL power rankings for Week 1 have the Rangers No. 2 and tops in the Eastern Conference with the Bruins fifth overall and third best in the conference behind New York and Pittsburgh.

Rangers center Brian Boyle, who was born in Dorchester and is a big Red Sox fan, said the best New York/Boston rivalry he experienced growing up was Sox vs. Yanks.

When he was a kid, Bruins/Rangers didn’t have the same intensity as Canadiens/Bruins. Heck, Boyle didn’t hate the Rangers at all. He actually enjoyed watching them when Tony Amonte was in New York during the early 1990s.

Since being a part of the Rangers beginning in 2009, Boyle has seen both New York and Boston build top-notch rosters and with that, this rivalry has gained more steam. It’s certainly better now than when he was a kid, he explained.

“We have similar styles of play so that’s always good for a rivalry,” Boyle said. “We both play hard and physical. Right now, it’s just game on — it’s going to be intense.”

Bruins forward Tyler Seguin has attended a Yankees/Red Sox game and been assimilated into the hated culture New York and Boston have for each other.

The 20-year-old star knows this brief 48-game regular season should be intense for Bruins and Rangers players and the fans, especially whenever these two teams meet.

“We have those tough, hard-nosed hockey games,” Seguin said. “Last year we obviously lost three out of four to them and they added another tough forward in (Rick) Nash.”

Certainly the Rangers and Bruins will be tough to score on over the next few months. New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy last season with a 1.97 goals against average. The Bruins, meanwhile, not only have Tuukka Rask — who led the NHL with a 1.97 goals against average in 2009-10 — but also have one of the toughest defenses in the league.

“I think any time an Original Six team plays each other, it’s a big rivalry and there’s been some pretty good games with the Bruins and Rangers in the past couple of years and that will probably continue over to this year,” said Bruins forward Chris Bourque, son of the great Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque. “They’ve got a really good team and they’ve added some good players. We have a pretty good team, too, with pretty much the exact same team as last year minus a couple of guys.”

Rangers rookie Chris Kreider, a native of Boxford who played at Phillips Academy, certainly knows a thing or two about the New York/Boston thing.

Kreider said Jets/Pats was his favorite New York/Boston rivalry growing up.

“I love the Patriots and it seemed like the Jets were always providing a lot of bulletin board (material),” Kreider said.

Kreider noted hockey teams build several rivalries within their conference, especially when two are at the top of the standings.

“This is obviously a special one,” he said about Bruins and Rangers.

The Bruins certainly got off on the right foot last night after struggling against the Rangers. They showed New York they are in for a heavyweight fight (which if we’re lucky will extend into the Eastern Conference finals).

Round 2 is Wednesday at Madison Garden. You ready? After last night, you should be.

With only 48 games — now 47 left — every minute should be intense.