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Bruins-Rangers turf war set to explode

BOSTON -- It just so happens that the top three teams currently in the NHL are Original Six franchises.

The Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins lead the way on the milky white ice, and the latter two clubs will try to capture the spirit of the thing (thanks Dickie Dunn) when the puck drops Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.

These teams are similar in almost every aspect. It's going to be a physical battle, and goaltending will be sharp at both ends of the ice. Because the boards will be rattling with teeth-shattering body checks, discipline will be the key for both teams.

The Rangers currently sit atop the Eastern Conference and rank second in the league overall with a 29-12-4 record for 62 points. The Bruins trail by a single point with their 30-13-1 mark in the conference. Saturday's game is the first of four meetings between the teams this season, and all four games will have that playoff-style mentality because it's possible Boston and New York will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"Yeah, it's going to be a great game, I'm sure," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "We always have good games, we always battle for those points, and they're playing really well, so it's going to be a tough game."

It will no doubt be a battle between the pipes, too.

The last time these teams played, the Rangers skated away with a 1-0 victory when New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves en route to the shutout. In fact, he's been a virtual brick wall against Boston.

Lundqvist has a 16-5-2 record with a 1.50 goals-against average and five shutouts in 23 career games against the Bruins.

"He's having a great year again," Chara said. "He's always tough to beat. He covers the net really well, so we just have to be willing to put a lot of traffic in front of him, a lot of shots, and get some offense going."

The masked man the Bruins have is no slouch, either. Tim Thomas happens to be the reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy winner and he's matching his historic play from a season ago.

After a personal two-game losing skid, Thomas rebounded with a 30-save performance to help the Bruins to a 4-1 win on Thursday over the New Jersey Devils. Overall, he's 19-9-0 with a 2.02 GAA and a .936 save percentage.

Since this should be an intense battle, special teams will also be a key factor.

New York's penalty-killing unit has not allowed a power-play goal in 11 of the past 12 games. Fortunately for the Bruins' strong penalty-killing unit (ranked sixth), New York's power play on the road is ranked 29th in the league. Boston's power play has drastically improved this season and enters Saturday's game ranked 11th in the league.

Because these teams play a similar style, and have similar badass attitudes, there will be plenty of chirping both between and after whistles, but the team that can control those emotions will gain the edge.

"They always battle hard," Chara said. "They always give you that game that you have to really bring your physical element [to], and you have to be willing to work extremely hard. They play a really draining game, and if you're not ready and emotionally attached, then [you'll get] outworked, so we have to for sure be ready."

Rangers coach John Tortorella is emotional both on and off the ice. Along with assistant coach and former Bruins coach Mike Sullivan, Tortorella and the Rangers would like nothing more than to come into the Garden and stick the defending Cup champions with a big, fat loss.

"They've been a 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," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "There's certainly some excitement from our team in looking forward to the matchup, and I have no doubt that the same is going on from their side."

Players on both sides know exactly what is at stake, and this game means more than just two points. The winner will gain Eastern Conference dominance for the time being.

"Yeah, they're playing really well right now," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who returned to the ice on Thursday after completing his five-game suspension. "They've got a lot of depth over there, they've got a great goalie, and they're playing good hockey, so we just have to make sure we're prepared and ready to match their work ethic."

So, forget about the New England Patriots for a day and enjoy this Original Six rivalry matchup on Saturday afternoon -- you won't be disappointed.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.