The top spot in the Eastern Conference is on the line as these elite clubs open their season series with a Saturday matinee in Boston.
The Rangers and Bruins share a link to the NHL's earliest days - not to mention a New York-Boston dynamic that stirs passions in other sports - but they've both had more intense rivalries with several other teams recently. That's largely because they haven't met in the playoffs since 1973.
All of that could be about to change. Since they last squared off April 4, Boston (30-13-1) has won the Stanley Cup and New York (29-12-4) has blossomed into one of the East's best teams, currently leading the conference by one point over the Bruins.
"It's a great challenge," Rangers center Brad Richards told his team's official website. "We haven't played them yet, and we've been looking forward to this all year, the defending champions neck-and-neck with us all year. It's a great building to play in, a Saturday afternoon. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Boston inched closer to the Rangers with a 4-1 win at New Jersey on Thursday. Trailing entering the third period and in danger of their third loss in four games, the Bruins responded with four unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes.
They've outscored opponents 67-30 in the third this season.
"We obviously talked about needing to be better," goaltender Tim Thomas said. "You can talk about it, and there's a difference between talking about it and doing it. One of the good things about this team is, more often than not, we do it."
That's also been true of the Rangers, who've outscored foes 46-33 in the final period. That didn't hold true Thursday against Pittsburgh, however, as the Penguins scored three in the third to win 4-1.
New York has dropped three of five after winning 10 of the previous 11.
"I guess everyone is used to those five-game winning streaks, those seven-game winning streaks," Rangers coach and Boston-area native John Tortorella said. "It's not going to be easy."
The Rangers owned the third period the last time these teams met. Boston led 3-0 in the second, but New York rallied with two in that period and three more in the final four minutes of a 5-3 victory, which was vital to the team claiming the East's final playoff spot.
Their sights are set higher this season, but the Rangers are seeking more offensive consistency after scoring one or zero goals in four of their past six.
Richards, who expects to play despite missing practice Friday with a sore neck, has no points in that stretch for his longest drought as a Ranger.
"For a while when we were winning a lot of games we did all the little things really well," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "That's just what we have to come back to."
The Bruins are coming back home - briefly - as they continue a stretch of six games in nine days leading up to the All-Star break. They've more than doubled their opponents' goal total (71-31) while going 14-2-1 in Boston since the start of November, although the Rangers won in both of their visits last season.
With another big game looming Sunday at Philadelphia, the Bruins may start Tuukka Rask in this contest. Thomas' backup has posted a 1.62 goals-against average in five starts against the Rangers, although he's 2-3-0 in those games.
Lundqvist has stellar numbers against Boston - 16-5-2 with a 1.50 GAA and five shutouts in 23 career meetings.
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