At a glance: With only one point separating the two teams in the Eastern Conference standings, the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins face off for the first time this season Saturday at TD Garden. The Rangers are coming off a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Penguins Thursday, while the Bruins return home after toppling the New Jersey Devils 4-1 the same night.
Bounce-back opportunity: Losers in three of their last five games, the Rangers are in dire need of a bounce-back game, and as Dan Girardi stated Thursday, “there’s no better opponent” than the Bruins. After rattling off four winning streaks of five games or more – a franchise record – the Rangers have struggled to string together wins of late. A win over Boston could be a morale-boosting penultimate game before heading into the All-Star Break. The Rangers play the 10th place Winnipeg Jets Tuesday.
Road-weary Bruins: The formidable Bruins, who boast a gaudy plus-71 goal differential, are 6-4-0 in their last ten games despite a tough four-game trip that featured losses to bottom-dwelling teams like Carolina and Tampa Bay. They’ll host the Broadway 29-12-4 Blueshirts for Saturday’s matinee before jetting off on another two-game jaunt heading into the break.
Quote Book: The Rangers are well aware that they cannot afford the same slow start against the reigning Staley Cup Champions that plagued them Thursday night against the Penguins. Said veteran forward Mike Rupp: “I think you have to be ready or they’ll embarrass you.”
Pain in the neck: Center Brad Richards missed practice Friday with a stiff neck but expects to play Saturday. The 31-year-old center suffered the injury Thursday, when he was tripped by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke and went down on the ice hard. Richards told reporters he thought Cooke’s actions were “cheap,” but Cooke will not receive any supplementary discipline. The NHL Department of Player Safety reviewed the play but did not feel it qualified as a traditional slew-foot.
Great goaltending: Saturday’s contest will also feature a marquee goaltending match-up between All-Star netminders -- New York’s Henrik Lundqvist (20-10-4, .936 save % and 1.93 GAA) and Boston’s Tim Thomas (19-9-0, .936 save % and 2.02 GAA). Both team’s rank among the top three in fewest goals against (Boston, 2nd – 2.00; Rangers, 3rd – 2.02 ).
Speaking of All-Stars: Perhaps Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara can do some pre-scouting before next weekend’s All-Star game. The former Norris Trophy winner was selected as one of two captains for the festivities in Ottawa. Chara will be joined by Bruins teammates Tyler Seguin and Thomas at the ASG, but he might want to keep an eye on Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, defenseman Dan Girardi and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist as potential draftees if rival captain Daniel Alfredsson snatches up his Boston brethren.
Experts’ take: ESPN’s Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun weigh in on Saturday’s showdown and the implications on the Eastern Conference standings.