RANGERS vs. BRUINS, 3:30 p.m.
Madison Square Garden
NBC, 98.7 FM
The Rangers were tested on the road this past week, and every test they faced they passed with flying colors.
Now comes another: The Boston Bruins are at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.
The 652nd regular-season meeting between the Rangers and Bruins is the last of 2019-20, and this time Boston will hit the ice on Broadway toting the best record in the National Hockey League.
But the nationally-televised matchup features two of the League's hotter teams, notwithstanding those 10 straight wins down in Tampa. The Rangers, winners of four straight, are 7-2 in their last nine games; Boston is 8-1. For the Blueshirts, it will be a chance to make it season-best five consecutive wins coming out of their strongest road trip of the season, a three-city, four-night sweep.
"I think we've shown throughout the season that we can play good hockey and beat any team when we stick to our game," Mika Zibanejad said. "Obviously when you start winning a couple, you get more and more of that belief in the locker room."
While the Bruins can boast of arguably the best line in hockey, the Blueshirts can counter with a formidable one of their own, with Zibanejad at its helm. It is a line that came through in the biggest spots of last week's road trip and has been in lock step for more than a month now.
Chris Kreider, Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich combined for 12 points -- each had four -- during the Rangers' three-game waltz through Winnipeg, St. Paul and Columbus over a four-day span this past week, and over the past 10 games that unit has put together 19 goals and 35 points.
"We've been playing for quite some time now as far as our line goes, and it just feels good right now," Zibanejad said. "We're not doing anything fancy, we're just working hard, we're getting our chances making the most of it."
"I think we've got another level," said Kreider.
Kreider in particular has found another level, and has been a pillar of scoring consistency for two months running: 11 goals in the last 15 games -- most recently the game-winner with 3:11 left on Friday in Columbus -- and 29 points in 28 games dating to Dec. 8.
Zibanejad is tied for seventh in the NHL in goals per game, with .55, and Buchnevich's hot stretch has included six goals and 10 points in 10 games entering Sunday -- although David Quinn made a point over the weekend of spotlighting other areas of Buchnevich's game.
"The thing about Buchnevich is all the things he's doing that maybe a scorer usually doesn't do," the Head Coach said after Friday's game. "His defense has gotten a lot better. He makes a heck of a play defensively in the third period coming by our bench backchecking" -- when he chased down Boone Jenner across three lines -- "makes a great poke check and we go the other way. His wall play was really good, he was in great position defensively.
"Obviously Mika has always been real good defensively, and Kreids scores the big goal -- so yeah, that line's been really good for us."
That has long been true about the Bruins' top trio, two of whom are in the top seven in NHL scoring -- David Pastrnak with 82 points (second) and Brad Marchand with 73 (tied for seventh). With 42 goals through 59 games -- even with Auston Matthews for the League lead -- Pastrnak is easily on pace to become Boston's first 50-goal scorer since Cam Neely in 1993-94, and has a chance to become the only Bruin not named Phil Esposito ever to score 60.
Marchand had five points in the Bruins' win at the Garden back on Oct. 27, a game in which the other member of that line, Patrice Bergeron, had his fifth career hat trick and also a check on Zibanejad that put the Rangers' top center out for a month.
By a wide margin, Pastrnak leads the NHL in power-play goals (18), and so do the Bruins (51). Their group will face a Ranger penalty-kill corps that has not allowed a goal for five games running, and was an "immense" factor in their road-trip sweep, in Quinn's word.
Boston leads the NHL with 84 points; still they find themselves in a two-horse race atop the Atlantic Division, just one point in front of the scorching Lightning. They will have Jaroslav Halak in goal at the Garden, after Tuukka Rask started Saturday's matinee against the Wings and the three before that.
Following this stop back home, the Blueshirts play five of their next six on the road; a victory on Sunday would give them their longest winning streak of the last two seasons. The 7-2 clip they are on right now is the reason behind the growing "belief" in their room that Zibanejad alluded to, though Kreider came at it from a slightly different angle.
"Guys believe in each other," he said, "and that's all that matters."
20 Kreider -- 93 Zibanejad -- 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
33 Di Giuseppe -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
48 Lemieux -- 14 McKegg -- 21 Howden
76 Skjei -- 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox
18 Staal -- 42 Smith
63 Marchand -- 37 Bergeron -- 88 Pastrnak
74 DeBrusk -- 46 Krejci -- 83 Kuhlman
10 Bjork -- 13 Coyle -- 43 Heinen
20 Nordstrom -- 52 Kuraly -- 14 Wagner
33 Chara -- 73 McAvoy
47 Krug -- 25 Carlo
48 Grzelcyk -- 79 Lauzon
The Rangers have points in six straight afternoon games (3-0-3). The Bruins are 4-3-1 in the afternoon, including an NHL Thanksgiving Showdown overtime win over the Rangers. David Pastrnak has eight goals in the eight day games.
The Blueshirts are 9-3-1 in their last 13 games against Boston.
Chris Kreider has 17 goals and 29 points in his last 28 games, during which time he has not gone back-to-back games without a point. His 51 goals since the start of 2018-19 are the most he has ever had in back-to-back seasons.
Artemi Panarin's 77 points this season are the most by a Ranger since Marian Gaborik's 86 in 2009-10.
Among goaltenders with at least 30 career games against the Bruins, Henrik Lundqvist's .928 save percentage is the best in NHL history, and his 2.17 GAA is fourth-best.
The Rangers are 4-1 in their last five games vs. the Atlantic Division.
The Blueshirts have been shorthanded just 22 times in their last 11 games. Their penalty kill is a perfect 11-for-11 over the past five.
Nine of Boston's 11 regulation losses this season have come on the road.
The Bruins rank second in the NHL on power plays (26.2 percent) and penalty kills (84.3 percent).
Through 59 games, Boston has the League's best goal differential at plus-58 (196 goals for, NHL-low 138 goals against).
The Bruins are 0-7 in shootouts, and 4-for-30 on shootout attempts.
Boston is 4-4-1 in the second game of back-to-backs.
Pastrnak scored his 42nd goal of the season on Saturday against Detroit; he is part of a three-way tie atop the League leaderboard with .71 goals per game. Mika Zibanejad is in a tie for seventh, even with Connor McDavid at .55.
David Krejci played his 900th NHL game on Saturday, and Boston Head Coach Bruce Cassidy earned his 200th NHL win, his 153rd behind the Bruins bench.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Long Island native and childhood Ranger fan Adam Fox, the Blueshirts blueliner from Jericho who turns 22 on Monday, led the team in ice time the last two games, topping 23 minutes on back-to-back nights and assisting on late third-period goals in each one. The Harvard product ranks third among NHL rookie defensemen with 31 points.
Long Island native and childhood Ranger fan Charlie McAvoy, the Boston blueliner from Long Beach who turned 22 in December, has points in four of the Bruins' last six games, including both his goals this season after none in his first 51 games. After two points on Saturday, McAvoy -- a BU Terrier under David Quinn -- has two goals, four assists and a plus-8 during the stretch; he is the Bruins' ice-time leader this season at 23:07 a game.