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Bruins try to clinch home-ice advantage for East playoffs

By Mike Lipka

Stats Writer

NY Rangers (40-29-9) at Boston (50-17-10) 1:00 p.m. EDT

BOSTON (AP) -- 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 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 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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