The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins face off on Saturday afternoon for the first time this season, two freight trains running on the same Eastern Conference track.
The plan was to do a "tale of the tape" for the top two teams in the East, but I scrapped it; what's the point of writing "even" or "Bruins" for nearly every category?
There are a few advantages. The Bruins are the best offensive team in the NHL with a 3.51 goals-for average in 44 games. The Rangers are ninth at 2.72. The Bruins' scoring depth is, perhaps, the best in the League: 13 players with 15 points or more and seven that have over 30 points on the season. The Rangers have 10 over 15 points and four players with 30 or more.
Defensively, these are the second and third best teams in the League, trailing behind Ken Hitchcock and the St. Louis Blues. The Bruins have a team GAA of 1.98; the Rangers with 1.99. Henrik Lundqvist has a 1.93 GAA and a .936 save percentage/ Tim Thomas has a 2.02 (gasp!) GAA and a .936 save percentage; luckily, Tuukka Rask has a GAA of 1.61 and a .946 save percentage in 15 starts to pick up the slack for that slacker.
The Bruins have a better power play; the Rangers have a slightly better kill.
The numbers reveal the Bruins as the better team this season; that Stanley Cup banner than hangs over their home ice gives them an advantage in intangibles as well.
But do the Rangers accept that? From Andrew Gross of The Record:
Marian Gaborik knows the Rangers are confident they're as good as the Bruins. "We wouldn't be where we are in the standings if we weren't," Gaborik said. "It's a great challenge. Everybody in the locker room is looking forward to it."
Meanwhile, it was purely coincidental that Brad Richards described the Bruins' relationship to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings as "neck-to-neck." The conference-leading Rangers are one point ahead of the defending Stanley Cup champions as they meet this afternoon in Boston for the first of four meetings.
"I think every night is a measuring stick," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "Every night you have to prove yourself. But Boston is obviously one of the better teams in the league."
As for the Bruins, from Joe Haggerty:
"It's gonna be a great game against the Rangers; it always is," said Zdeno Chara. "They always battle hard and give you that game where you have to bring the physical element. You have to be willing to work extremely hard and they play a real grinding game. If you're not ready and emotionally attached then you're going to lose."
It's a difficult match for the B's, and has been for the last three years. Tortorella's tenets of hockey are much the same as Claude Juliens, and the Rangers have won 7 of the last 12 meetings against Boston by the combined score of 26-18.
"They've got a lot of depth and a great goalie," said Brad Marchand, describing the Rangers in terms that most people use to describe the Bruins. "We just have to make sure we're prepared and ready to match their work ethic.
Seven game series, beginning today, who wins: Rangers or Bruins?