The New York Rangers own a relatively comfortable lead atop the Eastern Conference, so they can afford to settle for one point now and then.
The Boston Bruins need all the points they can get with their division lead slipping.
With injured Rangers captain Ryan Callahan possibly out for a third straight game, New York goes for its fifth straight victory in this Original Six matchup Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Each of these teams has 19 regular season games remaining. The Rangers (41-15-7) lead the Atlantic Division by eight points over Pittsburgh, and are 10 in front of Boston (38-22-3) for the top seed in the conference.
New York has won its last three games at MSG, but its three-game overall surge ended Friday with a 4-3 overtime loss at Tampa Bay. Brandon Dubinsky pulled the Rangers even with 3:27 left in regulation, but Henrik Lundqvist was beaten by the Lightning’s Ryan Malone 1:58 into the extra session.
New York, which scored the game’s first two goals, lost for just the fourth time in 33 games this season when getting on the board first.
“It’s always tough to lose in overtime – you always want to try to help the team there and get the save,” Lundqvist said after stopping 27 shots on his 30th birthday. “But I’m the happy the way we answered back … we’ll take that point and get ready for Boston.”
Lundqvist will likely be in net for a third time against the Bruins in 2011-12. He made 32 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory at Boston on Jan. 21 – preventing the Bruins from taking the East lead – then stopped 42 shots in a 3-0 road win Feb. 14.
Callahan scored a goal in each of those contests, and he and Marian Gaborik each have three points against Boston this season. Callahan skated Saturday at the Rangers’ practice facility, but could miss a third consecutive game with a bruised right foot.
This will be the Bruins’ first game at Madison Square Garden since a 5-3 loss April 4, when New York scored five unanswered goals – three in the final 3:48.
The Bruins had already wrapped up a Northeast Division title at the time of that visit, but now arrive in New York with a slim three-point lead over surging Ottawa.
Boston has averaged 1.9 goals while going 6-8-1 since the start of February.
“You know we have the scoring, right now it isn’t there,” coach Claude Julien told the Bruins’ official Twitter account following Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders.
The lack of scoring puts additional pressure on reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who will see the lion’s share of the playing time in net after Tuukka Rask suffered an undisclosed injury in the second period Saturday. Rask will not accompany the Bruins to this contest or on Tuesday’s visit to Toronto, and the team has recalled Michael Hutchinson from Providence of the AHL to back up Thomas.
“You want to be able to use two goaltenders in this stretch, but it’s not what it is,” Julien said.
The Bruins will also be without defenseman Andrew Ference for a second straight game due to an undisclosed lower-body injury.
The Rangers have outscored the Bruins 45-28 while winning 12 of the last 15 meetings between these teams at MSG.