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Rangers seek payback vs. Hawks

by Frank Mentesana
RANGERS (42-17-7) at BLACKHAWKS (36-25-7)


Last 10: New York 5-3-2; Chicago 6-4-0

Season Series: This is the second and final meeting of the season between these Original Six clubs. The first matchup on Feb. 16 was a memorable one, as the Blackhawks emphatically ended a nine-game losing streak with a 4-2 victory. They built a 4-0 lead almost before the fans at Madison Square Garden were even settled into their seats, putting four pucks past Martin Biron within the first 10 minutes.

Big Story: The East-leading Rangers have a chance to get back on track and gain a measure of revenge for that February loss as they make their lone visit to the Windy City this season. Not only will the venue change from the first encounter, but there will be several other differences as well. Henrik Lundqvist will almost certainly be in net for New York this time, as Biron played in the Blueshirts' loss Thursday night at Ottawa. For Chicago, Corey Crawford was the netminder for the slump-busting win at MSG, but Ray Emery is expected to make his fourth straight start in goal on Friday. In addition, the Blackhawks will be missing captain Jonathan Toews, who converted a penalty shot to start the four-goal onslaught just over a minute into the first meeting. The Hawks are 4-4-0 without Toews, who skated on Thursday for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury, widely reported as concussion-like symptoms.

Another variance: the Rangers entered February's encounter as winners of four straight, whereas they look to stop a two-game skid this time, playing their third game in four days. They have dropped back-to-back 4-1 decisions, losing consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Dec. 13-15. The Blueshirts' loss on Thursday combined with a Blues' victory over Anaheim dropped New York out of the top spot in the overall standings.

Team Scope:

Rangers: Captain Ryan Callahan gave his club a 1-0 edge 4:36 into Thursday's game and it seemed like the Rangers' sub-par play from Tuesday's loss at New Jersey would be a thing of the past. But Zack Smith responded just 1:14 later with the first of four unanswered goals for the Senators, who cruised to a 4-1 victory to take three of four from the Blueshirts this season. New York will now try to avoid its first three-game losing streak since the first three games of the season -- two of which were not even on this continent.

"I think we're beating ourselves sometimes in a game and finding ways to lose," coach John Tortorella said. "We're just going to continue to keep working on our game and chip out the mistakes and see if we can get a little traction here."

If the Rangers can take solace in something after Thursday's defeat in Canada's capital city, it's that they are 8-1-2 in the second game of back-to-back sets this season. They'll also have a Hart Trophy candidate back between the pipes -- one who has had tremendous success against the Hawks. Lundqvist is 4-0-2 with a 1.80 goals-against average in six games against Chicago.

Blackhawks: Following 2-1 wins at Ottawa and Detroit to open March, the Blackhawks were unable to complete a perfect three-game road trip, falling in St. Louis on Tuesday, 5-1. The Blues outshot Chicago 14-4 in the first period and led 3-0 after a shorthanded goal just 1:46 into the second. Special-teams play was a big factor, as the Hawks were 0-for-5 on the power play, generating only three shots, while St. Louis was 1-for-2 with five shots. Andrew Brunette scored his 10th goal of the season and his first since Jan. 2 for Chicago, which had won three in a row. Ray Emery stopped 26 shots, losing to the Blues for the first time in four career starts.

"First shift they took over, they played really well, especially defensively," Marian Hossa said of the Blues. "(Our) power play wasn't good. We clicked three games but tonight, we couldn't settle the puck down, couldn't make a pass. We didn't deserve to win tonight."

Who's Hot: Callahan, who now has 26 goals, has notched points in four of his last five games and has scored a goal in three of his last four. … Hossa had a four-game point streak snapped in St. Louis, but he still has points in nine of his last 12 with seven goals and four assists in that stretch.

Injury Report: For the Rangers, forward Brandon Dubinsky (nose/hand) missed Thursday's game and is questionable for Friday. He told the team's website he is having trouble breathing properly and that his hand hurts, which are both the results of scrapping with New Jersey's Ryan Carter on Tuesday. Besides Dubinsky, defenseman Michael Sauer has been out since mid-December with a concussion. … Like Toews, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson has also been sidelined with reported concussion-like symptoms, but he is "hopeful" for Friday after missing 13 of the previous 14 games. The Hawks lost a D-man against the Blues on Tuesday, as Sami Lepisto suffered a left leg injury and is out indefinitely, while Steve Montador (upper body) and Daniel Carcillo (ACL) remain on IR.

Stat Pack: The Rangers' power play has been one of their few weaknesses this season. They were 0-for-4 against the Sens to bring their conversion rate down to just 14.0 percent, which is second-worst in the League. … Chicago is a fourth-best 22-7-4 on home ice.

Puck Drop: With a 30-2-3 record when scoring first, the Rangers have the best winning percentage (85.7 percent) in the League. Opening the scoring against the Hawks might not have the same importance though, as Chicago is tied for the most wins in the League (17) when the opposition scores first.

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