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Rangers-Canadiens Preview

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GAME: New York Rangers (5-3-3) at Montreal Canadiens (7-2-1).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EDT.

When the 2003-04 season ended, Jaromir Jagr was a disappointment and Henrik Lundqvist was an unknown.

Now the future Hall of Famer and rookie goaltender are big reasons why New York Rangers fans think the team's long absence from the playoffs may finally end.

Jagr and Lundqvist look to continue their impressive play for the Rangers when they visit the Montreal Canadiens.

Not much was expected this season of a rebuilding Rangers team. New York has missed the last seven postseasons, and many felt that drought would continue.

Jagr and Lundqvist have the Rangers thinking otherwise.

Playing his first full season with New York, Jagr has 10 goals and seven assists in 11 games. Through Thursday's action, his 17 points led the NHL. He was not a big hit in New York after being acquired during the 2003-04 season, collecting 15 goals and 14 assists in 31 games following 2 1/2 subpar seasons with Washington.

Lundqvist, meanwhile, has taken the No. 1 goalie spot from Kevin Weekes. He's lost only once in seven starts while ranking among the league leaders with a 1.55 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.

Jagr and Lundqvist were the stars in the Rangers' last game, a 3-1 win over the Islanders on Thursday.

While Lundqvist stopped 31 shots, Jagr assisted on two goals and extended his points streak to eight games. The Rangers killed all 11 penalties called against them.

"We were lucky to win the game," Jagr said. "Bad penalties don't help anybody. A lot of guys end up killing penalties, getting tired. Guys can't get on the ice, and the rhythm is not there. It affects everybody."

New York now faces a Montreal team which has scored two power-play goals in five straight games.

Two tallies with the man advantage weren't enough for the Canadiens on Thursday as they had a three-game winning streak snapped with a 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa.

Jose Theodore made a season-high 38 saves, including a lunging stop on the Senators' Chris Neil with 2:04 left in regulation to allow the Canadiens to keep the game tied.

"That was an open net and I just dove and he hit me right in the middle of the face," Theodore said. "I think we were lucky on that play but it's a big point for us."

Theodore has won seven of his last nine starts against the Rangers, including a 4-3 overtime victory Oct. 6.

In that game, Michael Ryder scored the game-winning goal 2:10 into the extra period. Ryder scored twice in Montreal's first three games, but has only two goals in the last eight.

The Canadiens' last five games have been decided by one goal, and they're 6-2 in such contests this season.

STANDINGS: Rangers - 13 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Canadiens - 15 points, 1st place, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 10 goals and 17 points; Martin Straka, 11 assists; Darius Kasparaitis, 22 PIM. Canadiens - Mike Ribeiro, 6 goals; Alexei Kovalev, 8 assists and 10 points; Mike Komisarek, 19 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Rangers - Power play: 21.1 percent (15 for 71), tied for 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.6 percent (71 for 81), 5th. Canadiens - Power play: 19.1 percent (13 for 68), 11th. Penalty killing: 82.4 percent (61 for 74), 15th.

GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Lundqvist (4-1-2, 1 SO, 1.55 GAA); Weekes (1-2-1, 3.75). Canadiens - Theodore (6-2-1, 2.98); Yann Danis (1-0-0, 1, 0.00).

SEASON SERIES: Canadiens, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 6; Canadiens 4-3, OT. At New York, Ryder won the game on Montreal's only shot in overtime. Montreal rookies Chris Higgins and Alexander Perezhogin scored their first NHL goals.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 1-3-1 on the road; Canadiens - 3-2-0 at home.

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