By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – Any questions about Eastern Conference supremacy were clearly answered Tuesday night at the TD Garden.

While the Bruins’ first loss to the New York Rangers last month easily could’ve gone their way had it not been for a major penalty against Andrew Ference and a last-second overtime goal by Marian Gaborik, there was no doubt about which team was better when the two teams met in the rematch.

The first-place Rangers played their game perfectly, while the Bruins floundered and flailed in an attempt to match the Blueshirts. After all, both teams pride themselves on checking, physicality and all-out determination. The mirror image scenario, however, only plays out when both squads play their best.

So through two head-to-head match-ups between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers have set a precedent that could carry over into the squads’ next two regular-season meetings in the Big Apple, and maybe even into the postseason.

“We know what to do to beat them, but we don’t do it on a consistent basis,” said Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg after his team’s most recent 3-0 loss to the Rangers. “We saw we had enough offensive zone time. We had good chances, good looks. But we just didn’t have that bite to get those rebounds and to put them in the back of the net. And on the other hand, they used their opportunities and we didn’t play consistent enough tonight.”

The Bruins might have officially out shot the Rangers, 79-31 (with 22 shots blocked by New York and 15 shots wide of zoned-in Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist), but when most of those shots are arriving from area codes outside the slot, or even the circles, even a goaltender who isn’t a gold-medal winner nor has a royal nickname can make the stops.

It’s odd that the Bruins would have such a tough time solving the Rangers. The game plan for defeating New York is the same one other teams, including the Rangers, use to beat Boston. You have to take care of the puck, sacrifice your body and, most of all, work your rear ends off. Maybe it’s the “dog days” of the season or just the notion that Boston is almost locked into the No. 2 seed already based on the standings and the games in hand the Bruins have on their closest competition.

Regardless, the Bruins are going to need better efforts on their upcoming six-game road trip, and are going to have to figure out a way to beat the Rangers sooner rather than later. Or things could start to get a little dicey in the standings. At the very least, the playoffs could suddenly became even a higher mountain to climb without the Bruins returning to what’s made them an elite team over the last year-plus.

The Bruins would be wise to heed their coach’s advice about turning things around.

“We’re a checking team that scores. That’s our identity,” said head coach Claude Julien, whose team is just 5-5-1 over its last 11 games. “We’re a checking team that scores, but right now, we’re not checking, and we’re not scoring. We’ve got to get back to get back to checking, and checking is playing a lot harder, winning battles, and being really hard to score against, and when you do that, then teams get frustrated like we did tonight, make a few mistakes, and it ends up in the net. So they beat us at our own game.”

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for He and also contributes coverage to and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter@TheBruinsBlog.

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