RANGERS at BLACKHAWKS, 8 p.m.
NBCSN, 98.7 FM
The Rangers are emerging from something they have not experienced since the All-Star break -- two days in between games -- and on Wednesday night they encounter a team they have not seen all season: the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Rangers' 30th different opponent of 2019-20 arrives in an Original Six matchup of two teams looking to mount playoff pushes in different conferences, and moving in different directions as they do so. The Blueshirts, even with Sunday's loss to the Bruins that snapped a four-game winning streak, are 7-3 in their last 10 games; Wednesday's hosts have won just twice in their last nine (2-5-2) following a five-game winning streak of their own.
And when this one arrives, the Blueshirts -- winners of five straight on the road dating back more than a month -- could have both Igor Shesterkin and Tony DeAngelo back. Shesterkin has not dressed for the Rangers since his Feb. 11 start in Winnipeg, when he earned his sixth NHL win in his seventh game but suffered a minor ankle injury during some contact with Andrew Copp of the Jets. DeAngelo has sat out the last two games with an upper-body injury.
Both players took part in the Rangers' practice on Tuesday in Westcheter and their optional morning skate on Wednesday at United Center, as did Brendan Smith as a defenseman in case DeAngelo needs another game -- though David Quinn has said he expects his leading blue-line scorer to make his return on this road trip.
That would mean his mom, Gina, can see him play: Wednesday night marks Game 1 of the Rangers' 2020 Moms Trip -- 19 moms accompanying their boys to Chicago and Carolina, games that are family affairs in more ways than one: Marc vs. Jordan Staal on deck for Friday in Raleigh, Ryan vs. Dylan Strome on tap in the opener in the Windy City.
Ryan, the eldest brother, is the family pacesetter this season with 50 points to Dylan's 31 (but just one assist in the last eight games) -- Ryan's next one will establish a new career high, and the five straight games with points that he brings on the road makes him one of the forwards in the Rangers' top six with streaks going: His linemate Artemi Panarin has points in six straight, Mika Zibanejad in four.
Those three combined on the third-period goal that made Sunday's game against Boston a one-goal affair; looking back on the game afterward, Quinn said he saw evidence, despite their late push, of a Ranger team that was playing its 10th game in 17 days, but one that still gave itself a chance to beat the NHL's top team.
"I think we as a group a little bit sluggish against the Bruins -- and certainly give them credit, but watching the game again, I mean, we just were sluggish," the Head Coach said. "But I mentioned this to our team: I think we lose that game 5-1 or 4-1 two months ago, I really believe that. I think our structure defensively, that's what you have to do in this league. You're not going to have 82 great games; when you're off, can you rely on your structure? Can you rely on just living another day to give yourself a chance?
"We weren't sharp overall with the puck, But like I said, we were pretty sound and we didn't give up much inside."
Wednesday game also will be Panarin's first as a Ranger against the Blackhawks, with whom he broke in the NHL in 2015. During his two seasons in Chicago, Panarin was the Hawks' second-leading scorer both years, trailing only Patrick Kane.
Those two once again are up among the NHL leaders: Panarin fifth in the League with 78 points, Kane tied for seventh with a team-leading 74. And while Chicago still has familiar names topping its stat sheet -- Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat 1-2-3 -- some young new faces follow, led this season by Dominik Kubalik.
The Czech winger, a seventh-round draft pick of the Kings way back in 2013, was playing in the Swiss League last season, then made his NHL debut this season at 24 years old (he happened to make it in Prague), and now leads all NHL rookies in goals, with 23 of them in 57 games, second on the Blackhawks to Kane's 27, while playing as Toews' left wing.
Another rookie, Adam Boqvist, will re-enter the lineup on Chicago's blue line Wednesday night, while Kirby Dach -- the No. 3 selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, one after Kaapo Kakko -- will play the 54th game of his rookie season as a Hawks center.
Robin Lehner, the ex-Islander in his first season in Chicago, will get the nod against the Blueshirts after Corey Crawford made 35 stops in a lost effort on Monday, finishing out a road trip on which the Blackhawks went 1-4, both starting and ending it with losses in Winnipeg.
Ryan Strome, a close follower of his little brother's career, said: "I've watched about every one of their games -- they've still got a ton of skill on that team.
"I expect this to be a high-energy game," Strome said. "Anytime you're in United Center it's always a fun game and a great atmosphere. And with our moms here and the playoff implications, I think there's plenty of fuel on the fire."
20 Kreider -- 93 Zibanejad -- 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin -- 16 R. Strome -- 17 Fast
33 Di Giuseppe -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
48 Lemieux -- 14 McKegg -- 21 Howden
76 Skjei -- 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox
18 Staal -- 77 DeAngelo
8 Kubalik -- 19 Toews -- 91 Caggiula
20 Saad -- 22 Carpenter -- 88 Kane
12 DeBrincat -- 77 Dach -- 17 D. Strome
36 Highmore -- 64 Kampf -- 92 A. Nylander
2 Keith -- 27 Boqvist
56 Gustafsson -- 5 Murphy
68 Koekkoek -- 6 Maatta
The Rangers have not lost a road game since Jan. 11 in St. Louis (5-0 since).
Since Oct. 22, the Rangers are 17-6 in the games following a loss.
The Blueshirts have allowed nine goals in their last five games, one of them an empty-netter.
Igor Shesterkin has stopped 238 of 253 shots (.941) to start his NHL career.
Artemi Panarin is two points from 400 for his NHL career. He had the first 151 of his points in 162 games as a Blackhawk from 2015-17; he has the last 78 in 57 games as a Ranger, fifth-most in the League this season.
The Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Jets on Monday was the first NHL game this season with zero penalties.
Over the past three seasons, the Blackhawks are 49-44-17 at United Center -- only the Red Wings have fewer home-ice wins in that span.
Chicago has scored in the game's opening minute five times this season.
At 36 years old, Duncan Keith leads the Blackhawks in average ice time at 23:57 per game. The blueliner's next goal will be his 100th in the NHL; his next assist will be his 500th.
Since returning from an ankle injury on Jan. 18, Brandon Saad has seven goals in 11 games.
Alex DeBrincat has points in each of his four career games against the Rangers (three goals, two assists).
Wednesday's is the first Rangers-Blackhawks game in 398 days. The teams will close their regular-season schedules on April 6 at Madison Square Garden.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Over the past 29 games, Chris Kreider has scored 17 times and has not gone back-to-back games without a goal. Kreider has four goals during the Rangers' five-game road winning streak -- three of those have been game-winners.
Dominik Kubalik was the NHL's Rookie of the Month for January after scoring 10 goals and 14 points in 10 games last month. The 24-year-old Czech leads all NHL rookies with 23 goals; he played a career-high 18:21 in the Hawks' loss Monday in Winnipeg.
Julien Gauthier -- 6-4, 227 pounds, 22 years old -- on becoming a Ranger in a trade from Carolina on Tuesday:
"I wasn't expecting it, to be honest, so it's just a great feeling to be in this organization -- it's world class, everything is top-notch. Nothing to complain about -- it's just better than what I could imagine right now. … I try to use my size as my strength -- I'm not useless if I don't do it, but just playing the right game, going to the net, finishing my checks and playing in the dirty areas, that's good for me."
Brett Howden on current Blackhawk and former WHL foe Kirby Dach:
"Funny story, I actually coached him when I was 15. One of my assistant coaches in midget, after my midget year, was coaching a summer team and he asked me if I wanted to come on the bench, he was coaching 12-year-olds I think. So I went on the bench with him, and Kirby Dach is one of the players. I played against him in Junior and we always say hi to each other. The fact that we're going to play against each other (in the NHL), that's pretty cool."