WILMINGTON (CBS) - Coming off a five-game road trip that featured games against some also-rans and borderline contending teams (and a respectable 3-2-0 record), the Boston Bruins are back home for something completely different.
Saturday they'll host the New York Rangers, who are one of the rare clubs ahead of Boston in the NHL standings. When they start play at the TD Garden, the Rangers will be in first with 62 points, one point ahead of the Bruins, who hold one game in hand.
Ever since the Bruins' whirlwind turnaround after their 3-7-0 start to the season, games against teams with a leg up on the Bruins in the standings have been few and far between. You have to go back to a December 17 visit to Philadelphia to find the last Bruins game against a team in front of them.
Rarer than games against teams with better point totals than the Bruins to this point of the season have been games against Boston's Original Six rival from 225 miles south. Amazingly, this will be the first Rangers-Bruins tilt of the 2011-12 season.
"Yeah, I mean I think it'll be very exciting," said forward Daniel Paille. "Obviously we're the top two teams right now (in the East) and we're separated by one point, so it's definitely going to be a challenge. I think the atmosphere will kind of be like Vancouver. It's going to be a high-tempo game and it should be fun."
Even Bruins head coach Claude Julien sounded like he had a fan's curiosity about how his team would match up with the Rangers after the Bruins practiced at Ristuccia Arena Friday.
"I don't think there's any doubt there as far as that's concerned," the said Bruins' bench boss. "They've played well. They've been a good consistent team all year and it's going to be our first game against them, so certainly there's something to be said about that. And I think there's certainly some excitement from our team and looking forward to the matchup. And I have no doubt the same thing is going on from their side."
The Bruins and Rangers ranked second and third, respectively, in goals allowed per game, led by three of the best goaltenders in the league – Boston's duo of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas and New York's franchise netminder Henrik Lundqvist. While there's no telling as of today which puck-stopper Julien will turn to, the Bruins will undoubtedly be tasked with solving the Rangers' Swedish sensation Saturday.
Stats: Bruins-Rangers Head to Head
In many ways, these two teams are similar in that they pride themselves on work ethic over all else, features balanced attacks and rely on superb goaltending. Like playoff games, matchups like these can sometimes come down to a break here or there, or a great play by someone unheralded. While the Rangers juggle their lines often, with players like Winter Classic hero Mike Rupp and former Boston College star Brian Boyle often playing in New York's bottom six, there's no way the Bruins can afford to blink without thinking they're going to get burned.
"They're a team, I think we're almost the same," said Paille, whose line with Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell was on the ice for two Boston goals in the win at New Jersey Thursday. "They have a couple energy lines and a couple skill lines. So they definitely play four lines as well. It should be an intense matchup."
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