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Preview: Maple Leafs at Rangers

Rick Nash returns for New York; Toronto seeks answer for third-period problems

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

MAPLE LEAFS (18-13-8) at RANGERS (28-13-1)

7 p.m. ET; MSG, TSN4, NHL.TV


Maple Leafs team scope

The Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping to build off what they were doing before the five-day break in their schedule, but not without a few changes. The Maple Leafs, who haven't played since losing 5-3 to the Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre on Saturday, are 6-1-1 in their past eight games, including 5-0-1 on the road. However, they have given up multiple-goal third period leads in three of their past six games and have been outscored 11-5 in the third period in those six games. That includes the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic, when they scored four goals in the first 12:05 of the third period before allowing the Detroit Red Wings to score three in the final 7:55 to force overtime. "It should be automatic," forward James van Riemsdyk said. "We want to make it automatic when we're in the third period with a lead. We want to be able to close out games. That's what the good teams do, they basically lock it up and that's pretty much the game when you have a lead in the third period." Van Riemsdyk said third-period success, particularly in the second half, typically makes the difference between the teams that make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the teams that don't. "That's usually when the game is on the line and usually in the third period, especially in the second half of the year, it's a one-goal game," he said. "Whether you're up one or down one, being able to play the right way in those situations, being able to find ways to win games and close out games is huge, obviously."


Rangers team scope

Forwards Rick Nash and Pavel Buchnevich will return to the New York Rangers lineup. Nash has missed the past eight games with a groin injury. Buchnevich has been out for 27 consecutive games, the first 26 with a back injury and then one while on a three-game stint with Hartford of the American Hockey League. He was recalled Thursday. "I feel like with everything he's gone through, the daily work he's getting with our conditioning staff and medical staff that it should not be an issue," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. Nash is hoping his return from this groin injury goes better than the last time he returned from a similar injury this season. He missed four games from Dec. 8-13 with a groin injury, came back for three and scored two goals, including a game-winner against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 15, but then had to go back on the shelf for eight more because his groin did not react the way he had hoped. "I guess you never really know [how it will be], but obviously we took some more time and put a more cautious effort to it," Nash said. Nash said he doesn't feel any lingering pain when he skates, but he expects it will take him a few games to get his lungs and his hands back up to game speed. The Rangers haven't played since last Saturday, when they came back from a three-goal deficit to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-4 at Nationwide Arena. They have won five of their past six games.


Maple Leafs projected lineup

Zach Hyman -- Auston Matthews -- Connor Brown

Leo Komarov -- Nazem Kadri -- William Nylander

James van Riemsdyk -- Tyler Bozak -- Mitchell Marner

Matt Martin -- Frederik Gauthier -- Nikita Soshnikov

Morgan Rielly -- Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner -- Connor Carrick

Matt Hunwick -- Roman Polak

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Josh Leivo

Injured: Martin Marincin (lower body), Ben Smith (upper body)


Rangers projected lineup

Chris Kreider -- Derek Stepan -- Mats Zuccarello

Michael Grabner -- Kevin Hayes -- J.T. Miller

Jimmy Vesey -- Oscar Lindberg -- Rick Nash

Pavel Buchnevich -- Brandon Pirri -- Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh -- Brady Skjei

Nick Holden -- Dan Girardi

Adam Clendening -- Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Marek Hrivik

Injured: Mika Zibanejad (broken fibula), Matt Puempel (concussion), Marc Staal (upper body)


Status report

Vigneault wasn't sure if Fast was definitely going to play because he was sick and missed practice Thursday. Fast skated Friday morning, but Vigneault said he still needed to talk to him and the team medical staff before determining if he can play. … Andersen and Lundqvist will each be making their fifth straight starts.


Who's hot

Van Riemsdyk has nine points during a five-game point streak. Bozak has scored in back-to-back games and has three goals and five points in the past five games. Kadri has goals in three straight games. Marner has six points on the past four games, including three assists in the loss to Montreal. … Grabner has five goals and seven points in the past two games, including a hat trick, his second of the season, against Columbus. Miller has eight points in the past five games. Hayes has eight points in the past six games.

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