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Rangers-Blackhawks Preview

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Rangers-Blackhawks Preview

GAME: New York Rangers (18-8-3) at Chicago Blackhawks (10-14-2).

TIME: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. EST.

The New York Rangers are on a roll and the Chicago Blackhawks are faltering heading into the only meeting of the season between two of the Original Six franchises.

While the Rangers have won seven of eight and lead the Atlantic Division, the Blackhawks have lost five of six and have the third-fewest points (22) in the Western Conference.

New York has received a spark from rookie center Petr Prucha, who has six goals in the last eight games and nine this season. He scored two power-play goals in a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Monday.

"He's a small guy and he always looks for the open spot at the front of the net," Rangers center Martin Straka said. "He's getting all the rebounds, so he is not afraid at all. He's been great in those areas."

Prucha is rooming this season with fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr, who is among the league leaders with 43 points. Jagr is trying to avoid going a season-high fifth straight game without a goal, though he does have four assists in the last three contests.

Fifteen of Jagr's 21 goals have come on the road, a place where the Blackhawks are happy not to be for this game.

Chicago is in the middle of a stretch in which it plays nine of 11 games on the road. The Blackhawks are back home after losing both games on a trip through Florida, 3-2 in a shootout to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday and 4-3 in overtime to the Panthers on Saturday.

Saturday's game saw the Blackhawks rebound from a two-goal deficit in the third period on goals by Rene Bourque and Mikael Holmqvist, but they lost in the extra period on a power-play goal by Olli Jokinen.

Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made 22 saves on Saturday after sitting out against Tampa Bay, which he led to a Stanley Cup championship in 2003-04.

"Coming back to Florida maybe caught up with him a little bit," Chicago coach Trent Yawney said. "He just came from the last place he won a Stanley Cup. I don't care, you're human and you don't just turn off the switch."

Left wing Mark Bell had an eight-game points streak stopped for Chicago, the most penalized team in the league with 239 for an average of 22.8 minutes per game.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 6): Rangers - 39 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Blackhawks - 22 points, 3rd place, 18 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 21 goals and 43 points; Straka, 23 assists; Michal Rozsival and Darius Kasparaitis, 40 PIM. Blackhawks - Bell, 11 goals and 21 points; Kyle Calder and Tyler Arnason, 13 assists; Matthew Barnaby, 68 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 6): Rangers - Power play: 17.5 percent (30 for 171), 18th in NHL. Penalty killing: 87 percent (161 for 185), 2nd. Blackhawks - Power play: 15 percent (24 for 160), 22nd. Penalty killing: 82.3 percent (172 for 209), 15th.

GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Henrik Lundqvist (11-4-2, 1 SO, 2.13 GAA); Chris Holt (0-0-0, 0.00). Blackhawks - Khabibulin (8-13-1, 3.29); Craig Anderson (2-1-1, 3.94).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: 0-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 16, 2003; 1-1 tie. At Chicago, Mark Messier scored a goal and assisted on Chris Simon's game-tying tally for the Rangers.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 8-6-1 on the road; Blackhawks - 5-4-0 at home.


Associated Press
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