The Boston Bruins have sputtered to a plateau after seizing first place in the league early in the 2011-2012 season.
With the 2011 Stanley Cup in the books, it was impressive to see the B's bounce back and lead the league for the better part of December. Bruins fans know: When this group is firing on all cylinders, it's playing an extremely high level of hockey that few teams can keep up with.
As the 2011-2012 NHL regular season inches toward the playoffs, one team that can certainly keep up with the black and gold is the New York Rangers. From obscurity, the Blueshirts have slowly climbed into the spotlight on the leadership of Ryan Callahan and netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
Both clubs have held first place in the league for extended periods of time, and as the NHL's most prestigious franchises battle for position in the conference standings, these two face off in electric games highlighted by the fierce Boston-New York sports rivalry.
The Rangers won the last meeting between the hockey titans, but do they have the long-term advantage to send them on a deep Stanley Cup run?
Here's a full breakdown of which team has the advantage at each position.
Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the league by the numbers. The Swede boasts an elite .940 save percentage.
This is one of the toughest decisions to have to make between the two teams.
Both squads have among the best veteran goalies in the league, but Henrik Lundqvist has shown absolute dominance in front of the cage for the Rangers.
Lundqvist proved himself against the Bruins when the teams met in Boston on Valentine's Day, shutting out the B's in landmark fashion 3-0.
The night marked Lundqvist's seventh shutout this year, a new NHL record.
While Boston goalies Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask were a major reason the Bruins took home the Stanley Cup a year ago and continue to provide tough saves in big situations, both have struggled of late while Lundqvist has soared.
Tim Thomas, Boston's veteran, has allowed an average of just under three goals per game in his last five starts. The first of that series of less-than-perfect performances was when Thomas was called in to clean up Tuukka Rask's embarrassing six-goal mess at the hands of the division rival Buffalo Sabres.
For now, Henrik Lundqvist takes the cake at goalie.
Zdeno Chara muscles a forward out of the crease. Chara is known as one of the biggest, most agressive defenseman there is.
It's pretty hard not to give the nod to the Bruins on defense.
Zdeno Chara wears the "C" for good reason—he's talented and fast, and he sports an unrivaled physicality that often spells bumps and bruises for the visiting team.
Chara is not a generally well-liked guy, but as he knows better than anyone, the NHL is far from a popularity contest.
Bottom line, there is no defenseman like Chara in the league. He's a plus-21 on the season, which equates to the 13th-best in the league for plus/minus.
Add to that he's a major piece in the Bruins' seventh-ranked penalty-kill play, which is currently operating at a rate of 84.8 percent.
Oh, by the way, he's got the fastest slap shot ever recorded at 108.8 mph. Clearly, Chara can shoot the puck as well.
Daniel Paille's speed gives Boston the advantage on the left side.
The Boston Bruins are stacked at left wing.
It all starts with Daniel Paille's quickness, Milan Lucic's scoring cannon and Brad Marchand's efficiency.
No matter which line is out, the B's bring a deadly scorer or puck handler to the ice on the left side.
These forwards are instrumental when the weather gets warm and teams find themselves stuck in a playoff predicament.
The combination of Boston's surgical-shooting left wings and the lock-down defense is what propels them to play at the elite level.
The dynamic duo of Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik rule in favor of the Blueshirts at RW
Needless to say, wings are forwards, and forwards are primarily on the ice to score goals.
That's precisely what captain Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik are in the habit of doing—the pair has chipped in 50 goals already for New York, and both are snipers from the right-hand side.
In addition to being a scoring machine, Callahan provides this Rangers squad with plenty of leadership.
Though he's just a plus-1 on the season, his role on this team is well deserved, and the USA product should be a big reason New York secures a high playoff seed.
Seg-"win": 20-year-old Bruins C Tyler Seguin fires a shot
The Boston Bruins' perfect blend of young talent and veteran know-how at the center position is what many NHL coaches dream of and is B's coach Claude Julien's reality.
Tyler Seguin has already done what many seasoned NHL veterans don't do in a career, which is to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Seguin continues the trend of setting the bar high, as he's already laid claim to 20 goals on the year.
Add Seguin to veteran experience at center for best results, which is precisely what Peter Chiarelli and the Boston Bruins front office have done.
Heading up the other two lines are Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, both part of the 2011 championship team.
Chris Kelly has also subbed in and produced for the B's. Boston owes a mighty tip of the hat to its four main centers, who have added 64 total goals so far.
In the end: The New York Rangers maintain a strong grip on their seven-point lead over the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference, but Boston wins the advantage on 3-of-5 of the starting positions. Both teams' incredible depth of talent will carry them far into the postseason, and there's no doubt these two cities are the forces of the East.