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Rangers battle Bruins for Eastern Conference lead

by Dave Lozo
RANGERS (29-12-4) at BRUINS (30-13-1)


Last 10:
New York 7-3-0; Boston 6-4-0

Season series: This is the first of four meetings between the Eastern Conference titans.

Big Story:
It's taken nearly four months, but arguably the two best teams in the NHL get to square off. The Rangers and Bruins are mirror images, with both teams playing a tough, defensive style that's anchored by top-notch goaltenders. Both teams can roll four lines and have six capable defensemen. The edge could rest in Boston's offense, which ranks No. 1 in the NHL; the Rangers rank 11th.

Team Scope:

Bruins: After tearing through November and December, looking like a team that could only be beaten by a goalie that played out of his mind, the Bruins have leveled off a bit. They are 4-3-0 in their last seven, but they made a big statement Thursday night in New Jersey.

Down a goal to the Devils entering the third period, Boston ripped off three quick goals to emerge with a 3-1 victory. Andrew Ference, Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell scored in succession to send the Bruins into their showdown with the Rangers on a high note.

"It was kind of 'enough is enough,'" forward Shawn Thornton said of the comeback. "A lot of it, too, is not getting frustrated. In the past when we have gone through things like this we've had the tendency to get frustrated and spend a little too much time in the box. We did a good job of sticking with the program and using that frustration, funneling it the right way."

They know things won't get any easier against the Rangers.

"I think everyone is excited for this one," Thornton said. "It's a big, big test for us. They're a real good team, well structured, well built, well coached, and they work their butts off. It's a good test for us."

On the other end of the spectrum, the Rangers let one get away against the Penguins on Thursday night.

They entered the third period tied, but two goals from Evgeni Malkin and one from Richard Park -- the winner -- sunk the Rangers, 4-1. It marked the sixth straight game the Rangers have alternated wins and losses.

"I don't think we played that bad," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 32 saves. "It's all the little details that at the end will be the difference. We have to do everything, if not perfectly, really well to win games."

If the pattern holds, the Rangers will win in Boston on Saturday afternoon. But it's going to take a more complete effort than the one they had against the Penguins.

"It needs to be a bounce-back game," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "I feel like we've been having too many of those lately with a loss and a win and a loss. But it's the same old story -- we need to have a huge bounce-back game and it's against no other opponent than the other top team in the conference."

Who's Hot:
Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin has 1 goal and 2 assists in his last four games as the team has struggled to find consistent offense. … Boston's Horton has 3 goals in his past two games.

Injury Report: The Bruins and Rangers lack any new injuries.

Stat Pack: The Rangers are 3-for-45 on the power play in their last 18 games.

Puck Drop: "They've been hot all year as well, and they haven't lost too many games in a row. I think it's going to be a defensive game, for sure. Both of our styles are pretty much like that. And I would expect it to be very physical. They have four or five guys that hit constantly. So, it's going to be an enjoyable one for sure." -- Boston's Daniel Paille

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