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Both the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers are hoping recent victories mark the end of month-long swoons, but while the Bruins still have a comfortable cushion atop the Eastern Conference, the situation is a bit more desperate for New York.
With a chance at their first three-game winning streak in more than seven weeks, the Rangers look to improve their positioning in a crowded playoff race when they host the Bruins on Sunday afternoon.
The Rangers averaged 1.6 goals during a 2-8-4 stretch from Jan. 28-Feb. 26. They've matched that win total in their last two games, scoring 10 total goals in victories over Colorado and the New York Islanders.
They received a boost from three new players in Thursday night's 4-2 win on Long Island, with forward Nik Antropov and defenseman Derek Morris both making their Rangers debuts while controversial left wing Sean Avery returned to the team and saw his first NHL action since Nov. 30.
"That felt good to get that out of the way," said Avery, who helped the Rangers to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, but started 2008-09 with Dallas.
"If there was any nerves coming in, I certainly got rid of them quick," he said. "It felt good to be playing for this team again and getting the win. That's what I came here to do, try to win some games."
As part of a tight six-team cluster competing for the final four playoff spots in the East, New York (33-24-8) certainly needs some victories if it plans to get back to the postseason.
The Rangers went 2-for-5 on the power play Thursday - a sign of progress for a unit that ranks among the league's worst at 14.4 percent. They also scored at least four goals for the second straight game after doing it once in their previous 15 contests.
"It was an ugly win and we have some things to work on, but good teams win games when they're not playing that well," New York coach John Tortorella said.
While the Rangers have struggled to score for much of the season, the Bruins (43-14-9) are trying to reignite their recently slumping offense.
Boston averaged 1.8 goals in its nine losses during a 3-6-3 stretch from Feb. 7 through Friday, but Saturday afternoon's 5-3 win over Chicago snapped a three-game losing streak and boosted Boston's lead atop the conference to eight points over New Jersey.
Newcomer Mark Recchi scored twice against the Blackhawks in his second game since the Bruins acquired him from Tampa Bay at the NHL's trade deadline.
"They call him the wrecking ball for a reason," Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward said. "It takes courage and bravery to do what he does. He gets in the dirty places and plays with grit."
Boston beat the Rangers 1-0 at home on Jan. 31, when Bruins rookie Tuukka Rask made 35 saves for the shutout in his only appearance of the season.
Boston could have Manny Fernandez in net Sunday after Tim Thomas earned the victory against Chicago less than 24 hours earlier.
Fernandez is 0-2-2 with a 3.42 goals-against average since missing a month with a back injury, but Thomas hasn't played on consecutive days since Fernandez was hurt.
Henrik Lundqvist will likely be in net for New York, boasting a 9-2-2 lifetime record and 1.34 GAA against Boston. The Bruins are 1-4-2 in their last seven games at Madison Square Garden, and 1-3-1 in their last five road games overall.
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