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The Boston Bruins may have regained their swagger just in time for a run at their first Stanley Cup in 37 years. With one more point, they will secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
They also wouldn't mind sending a message to the team that could await them in the first round.
The Bruins look to extend their winning streak to six Saturday afternoon against the visiting New York Rangers, who are still clawing for one of the conference's final playoff spots.
Boston (50-17-10) already has its first 50-win season in 16 years, and is now on the verge of clinching home-ice advantage throughout the East playoffs just two years removed from missing the postseason. Its lead over second-place Washington is eight points, and the Capitals have four games left.
"You can play for one team your whole career and never get 50 wins - and still have some real good seasons," goalie Tim Thomas said. "It's a credit to the team, the way it's built and the way the guys play together.
"But if you're running the Boston Marathon and you're leading after 20 miles, you don't stop to say, 'Man, I'm leading.'"
The Bruins had been embroiled in a 6-9-4 funk before their current winning streak, which has been sparked by superior special teams play. They're 7-for-17 on the power play in the last five games, while killing 18 of 19 penalties.
A Vezina trophy candidate and the league leader with a 2.11 goals-against average, Thomas is with the Bruins for the long haul after signing a multi-year extension Friday.
He could get a day off Saturday after making 31 saves in a 2-1 win over Ottawa on Thursday night, in which case backup Manny Fernandez would try to improve on his performance against the Rangers from last month.
Fernandez gave up four goals on 30 shots in Boston's 4-3 loss March 8 at Madison Square Garden, and he was out of position for Nikolai Zherdev's game-winner with 6:22 to play.
The Bruins would like to return the favor against New York, which is currently in eighth place in the East and has a good chance of opening the postseason in Boston.
The Rangers' three straight road losses haven't helped their cause, and Thursday night's 4-2 defeat at Carolina was especially deflating. The Hurricanes scored two goals in a 28-second span in the third period to break a tie.
New York (40-29-9) is clinging to a two-point lead on ninth-place Florida with four games remaining.
"We're in the fight for our (playoff) lives right now," Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky said. "We've got to get focused on the next one and not sit here and pout or let this one creep into our next game in a negative way."
The 29th-ranked offensive team in the league with 2.45 goals per game, the Rangers continue to lean on goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who outdueled Martin Brodeur with a 38-save shutout to beat New Jersey on Monday but has allowed eight goals on 51 shots in his last two road starts.
The standout Swede is hoping Saturday's visit to Boston will resemble the rest of his career against the Bruins. He's 10-2-2 with a 1.45 GAA in 14 starts versus Boston.
While the Bruins' offense has shown signs of getting back on track, the team will be without leading goal-scorer Phil Kessel for a fifth straight game due to an undisclosed injury.
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