Boston against New York. First place on the line.
Nope. I'm not talking about football, though Thursday night's classic at Foxborough (where the Jets won 34-31) has many ridiculing the NFL's overtime format once again. But I digress.
No, not the Red Sox and Yankees either. It's November now, season's over. Sure, with baseball's free agency period beginning earlier today, those two teams will probably be battling it out for Mark Teixerias of the world.
Not the Celtics or Knicks either, though the two teams hook up Tuesday at MSG, with Boston 1.5 games ahead of New York in the young NBA season.
But I'm actually referring to hockey.
That's right. You heard it correctly.
Boston and New York battling it out for top spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference.
Sure, it's early, but Saturday night's tilt pitting the Bruins (10-3-3) and Rangers (12-5-2) at Madison Square Garden features the top two squads in the East.
For New York, it's not that big of a surprise as the Blueshirts have made the playoffs every year since the lockout after a seven-year drought--and the losses of some big names as well as the tragedy of prospect Alexei Cherepanov haven't seemed to slow the Rangers down.
The Rangers may have lost Jaromir Jagr (Kontinental Hockey League) and Brendan Shanahan (free agent) prior to the start of the year and goal scoring isn't their forte (ranking in the bottom ten in the league averaging 2.60 goals per game). Certainly, Scott Gomez's lower-leg injury is a cause for concern, as he's been listed as day-to-day. But the Rangers' strength is in goal, where King Henrik Lundqvist's sparkling 1.99 GAA ranks him among the league leaders.
New York started the season with five straight wins and went 10-2-1 in October, despite having to open with its first two contests in the Czech Republic. The Blueshirts proceeded to drop four of five before a huge 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils (including four goals in the second period) in their last game.
Meanwhile, the Bruins have been a surprise so far this season, and have gone 8-1-0 in their past nine, including a dominating 6-1 trashing of the Montreal Canadiens (to end an ugly 12-game losing streak to the Habs in regular season play) in their last contest on Thursday. Boston is a perfect 5-0-0 in the month of November thus far, having beaten tough opponents such as the Habs, Dallas Stars, and Buffalo Sabres during the streak.
Even the B's penalty killing has come around of late, as it has excelled during the recent five-game winning streak, killing off 20 of 21 man-disadvantages. Also, keeping the puck out of the net has been Boston's strong suit: the goaltending tandem of Manny Fernandez and Tim Thomas (2.01 team GAA) trails only Minnesota in that category.
Oh, okay. Boston trails the Rangers by three points in the East heading into Saturday's battle, so a victory would still leave the Bruins in second place in the conference. However, it would send a message to the league that the young B's are for real this season.
For the Rangers, they would want to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division, which has the Pittsburgh Penguins (10-4-2) right at New York's heels.
Boston, New York. Another classic battle. Expect a low-scoring, tight affair between the two Original Six foes.
For years, Bostonians and New Yorkers have been spoiled with the Red Sox-Yankees duels. Then we saw the pair of epic battles between the Patriots and Giants in the regular season finale and Super Bowl last season. Jets-Pats was a first place showdown just a night earlier, and the Knicks-Celts will do battle in a few days.
Who would have thought the Boston-New York would mean something in hockey too?