January 10, 2015 By Paul Gackle

Boyle Looks For Bragging Rights Over Former Teammates

SAN JOSE — For most NHL players, the 39th game of the season is just the next contest in an 82-game grind. But for New York Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle, game No. 39 has a little more meaning this year.

Boyle will be taking the ice at SAP Center as a member of the visiting squad for the first time in nine years when the Rangers (23-11-4) take on the San Jose Sharks (22-15-5) on Saturday. The 38-year-old defenseman spent six years as a key member of the Sharks before parting ways with the team during the offseason.

“There’s a lot of guys that talk smack for six years and it’ll be fun to be on the other side of it,” Boyle said. “You want to make sure you get the win because there’s a lot of guys that have big mouths and they’re going to rub it in your face for a little while and we won’t get the chance to settle the score again for another year.”

The Sharks are catching Boyle and the Rangers at the wrong time of the season. The Rangers are on fire right now having won 12 of their last 13 games, including back-to-back victories over the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. At the same time, Boyle is playing his best hockey of the year, picking up a goal and an assist against the Kings, while leading a power play that’s converted 10 of its last 23 opportunities with the man advantage.

“I would say for the last couple of weeks, he’s playing well. He’s been doing what we expected him to do,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. “He’s an offensive puck-moving defenseman — he’s doing that. He’s obviously helping us out on the power play, so I believe that as he gets more comfortable here with our environment that’s he’s only going to get better.”

Boyle’s season with the Rangers got off to a rough start after he broke his hand on opening night while blocking a shot against the St. Louis Blues, keeping him out of the lineup until Nov. 13. In December, he caught a flu virus which he didn’t completely recover from until after the Christmas break.

But now, he’s settling in on the Rangers blue line as the team charges up the Metropolitan division standings, trailing the first-place New York Islanders by only five points after a sluggish 11-9-4 start.

Boyle signed a two-year deal worth $9 million with the Rangers in the offseason after the Sharks made it clear that they wanted to get younger. In the spring, Boyle told reporters that he was “devastated” when he learned the Sharks weren’t going to offer him a contract.

Regardless, Boyle indicated that he doesn’t hold any ill feelings toward the organization.

“I wish them well,” he said. “I hope that they do well with the exception of against us, of course.”

The Sharks all-time leading scorer among defenseman (269 points) said he enjoys playing for an Original Six franchise in New York.

“I don’t want this to sound negative against San Jose because it was absolutely great here, but [New York is] more of a traditional hockey market,” Boyle said. “The team’s been around for a long time, a lot of history, and the building itself is pretty special. [Madison Square Garden] is possibly one of the best buildings in the world, not just in North America. So just wearing the jersey, Brian Leetch was my favorite D-man growing up, all the little things that come with playing with an Original Six team.”

The Sharks are planning to present a video tribute to Boyle on the cube during Saturday’s game.

“Dan Boyle was as big a part of this team for the six years prior to this than anybody that we’ve had,” McLellan said after practice on Friday. “We are grateful — grateful teammates, we’re a grateful organization. I’ll bet you the community is too, and the fans.”

Just as Boyle is looking for bragging rights against his former team, the Sharks are ready for some friendly competition against a close friend.

“It’s always fun,” Joe Pavelski said, referring to competing against Boyle. “At practice, games. You know he’ll be ready to play, so we’re going to see a really good Dan Boyle, I’m sure.”