Season Series: The Rangers, who have won five straight and nine of the last 11 against the Bruins, go for the season sweep Sunday in the fourth and final meeting of 2011-12. New York posted two victories in Boston -- one in overtime and the other a 3-0 shutout -- before edging the Bruins 4-3 in the latest encounter on March 4 at Madison Square Garden.
Big Story: As is often the case at this point in the season, the results of a couple of earlier games Sunday will determine what exactly is on the line for this clash between the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Should Pittsburgh lose to Philadelphia in any fashion in the NBC Game of the Week, the Rangers could wrap up the No. 1 seed in the East with a win against Boston. If the Pens lose in regulation, New York can also clinch the top spot in the Conference by gaining just a point.
The Bruins -- who earned a postseason berth when Buffalo lost Friday night -- could already be Northeast division champions by the opening faceoff if Ottawa loses to the Islanders in regulation. Even if the Senators win, Boston can still clinch the division with a victory of their own.
On top of all that, throw in two Original Six teams that are playing extremely well, a national broadcast, a couple of rabid fanbases, The World's Most Famous Arena, New York's race for the Presidents' Trophy as well as the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins looking to avoid a season sweep, and it should make for an eventful evening in what could be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Bruins: After playing below .500 for the first two-and-a-half months of 2012, it seems Boston has regained its form just in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins are 6-1-1 in their last eight after posting a record of 16-17-2 from Jan. 4-March 15. They put themselves on the verge of a division title with a 6-3 road victory against the Islanders on Saturday afternoon. With thousands of black and gold-clad fans helping to fill up Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Boston broke a 2-2 tie with four goals in the third, as Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron combined for three goals and eight points in the period. Tim Thomas was given the day off in favor of Marty Turco, who stopped 19 shots for his second win in three decisions since signing with the Bruins.
"It's about picking up your game at the right time," coach Claude Julien said. "We hope to peak when the playoffs are around. We're trying to play our best hockey heading into the playoffs."
Rangers: New York has also seemed to snap out of whatever little funk it was in during early-March. The Rangers have won four in a row and are 6-1-0 in their last seven games following a 2-5-0 skid. In their first game back at MSG after a perfect three-game road trip, they cruised to a 4-1 win against Montreal on Friday. Michael Del Zotto notched two goals and an assist, Brad Richards had a goal and two assists and Marian Gaborik tallied his team-leading 39th goal and chipped in with an assist as well. Henrik Lundqvist made his season-high eighth-straight start and finished with 19 saves, coming within 2:29 of his ninth shutout before Rene Bourque spoiled the bid. The victory marked just the third time in franchise history that the Rangers have won 50 games in a season; It's also their first 50-win season since 1993-94, the last time they won the Stanley Cup.
What does the milestone mean to coach John Tortorella?
"It doesn't mean squat. I will tell you right now it means absolutely nothing," Tortorella said. "It's about how we're playing as we go through these next four games against tough opponents. It's about our game going into the playoffs. You get measured by the playoffs. "
Who's Hot: Boston captain Zdeno Chara has points in four straight with one goal and six assists in that strertch. David Krejci, who tallied a pair of goals Saturday, has three consecutive two-point games. … Both Richards (1-6-7) and Gaborik (4-3-7) are riding four-game point streaks.
Injury Report: Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg is with the team in New York, but sat out the win against the Isles because of an infection in a cut above his left knee. Fellow blueliner Adam McQuaid didn't make the trip after being sent face-first into the boards Thursday by Washington's Jason Chimera. He has a cut and swelling around his left eye, but the Bruins said he didn't sustain a concussion. Mike Mottau returned to the lineup on Long Island after missing 10 games, but Tuukka Rask (groin) and Nathan Horton (concussion) remain sidelined. … The Rangers will be without forward Mats Zuccarello and defensemen Steve Eminger (ankle) and Michael Sauer (concussion).
Stat Pack: The Rangers are still towards the bottom of the power-play rankings with a success rate of 15.3 percent, but they are 4-for-9 with the man advantage over the past two games. When they do score on the power play, they have remarkable results. New York is 24-1-4 in games in which it scores with the extra attacker. … Lundqvist has held opponents to two goals or fewer 40 times this season, including six of the past eight. Thomas has allowed exactly two goals in five of his past six outings -- the other was a shutout. … The Bruins are 23-15-1 on the road, fourth-best in the League.
Puck Drop: Tortorella's constant message about disregarding the standings has certainly seeped into his captain.
"It's not as much (about clinching the No. 1 seed) as it us trying to find our game and making sure we have a lot of confidence rolling into the postseason," Ryan Callahan said. "With us feeling that, I think it comes along, that first seed. That's not something that we're ultimately focusing on, it's more our game. The last couple games here, you could feel it starting to come again. We're starting to get that confidence back, which is really important as you head into the postseason."