WILMINGTON --- It could be a primer of things to come in the playoffs, perhaps a glimpse of the Eastern Conference finals.
Whatever the cirmcumstance, Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Friday's practice at Ristuccia Arena his team was excited about hosting the New York Rangers in a matchup of the Eastern Conference's top two teams Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.
"I don't think there's any doubt that they've played well and been a good, consistent team all year,'' Julien said of the Rangers, who lead the Bruins by one point (62-61) in the Eastern Conference standings. "It's going to be a tough game against them. There's certainly some excitement from our team and looking forward to the matchup and I'm sure it's the same from their side.''
Julien said there were some similarities between both teams.
"Same thing, when you look at their fourth line, they've got some good depth,'' Julien said. "That's why they're able to roll four lines as well. Goaltending is not an issue with them also and so there is some similarities.
"They're a team that likes to play a heavy game also,'' Julien said. ``So it'll be an interesting matchup.''
The Bruins enter the game on the heels of a 4-1 victory at New Jersey, in which the Black and Gold erased a 1-0 deficit in the third period with three goals in a span of 4:44 and an empty-netter by Chris Kelly, who was absent from practice for what Julien called ``a maintainence day.''
"Even though the first two periods we didn't generate much offense, I thought our compete level was better, our energy level was better,'' Julien said. "Our physical part of the game and a lot of the battles were a lot better. It just seemed like once we scored our first goal, all of a sudden the offensive part of our game came back as well.
"Hopefully we can carry that third period into tomorrow's game right from the get-go and continue to build on that.''
In other Bruins news:
- Julien was pleased with the return of Brad Marchand from a five-game suspension. Asked how Marchand looked, Julien replied, "Good. For a guy who hadn't played in over a week -- a week and a half -- I thought he played well, he played with some energy. As he said after the game, when you haven't played in a while, you think you're skating a lot, and you think you're keeping yourself in shape, but there's nothing like playing the game.''
- On why Julien went with Tim Thomas as his goaltender against the Devils, after he absorbed a 5-3 loss in Tampa Tuesday: "Because I know Tim bounces back well and we needed him to bounce back. I didn't want him to drag that game with him because we asked the rest our team not to, so we needed a much better effort in New Jersey and we wanted him to be part of that group. He responded well and I thought he seemed more comfortable. As I've often said, we're not used to seeing Timmy have an average game and when he does it seems to bring some attention and that's to his credit because he's been that good to us.''
- Right winger Jordan Caron and defenseman Steven Kampfer were sent to Providence, but Julien said he expected one or both could be called up in the near future . . . It will be an interesting weekend for the Bruins with back-to-back matinees against the Winter Classic combatants: vs. the Rangers Saturday and at the Flyers Sunday before making a trip to the White House Monday, where the Stanley Cup champions will be honored by President Obama. Julien confirmed he had already been given his security clearance. ``Now if I was from France, I might be in trouble,'' he joked.