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GAME DAY: Blueshirts Baring Teeth as Sharks Visit MSG

Rolling Rangers Aim for Seventh Win in Eight Games; Kane Returns for San Jose

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. SHARKS, 7 p.m.
Madison Square Garden
MSG Network, 98.7 FM

GAME DAY
The last time the Rangers got together with San Jose, it was easy to wonder whether Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad were trying to outscore the Sharks or each other.

The last time the Sharks stopped into Madison Square Garden, the Rangers beat them in overtime and handed David Quinn his first win as a National Hockey League head coach.

The Sharks, riddled with injuries, are back for another get-together on Saturday night, and this time Quinn brings in a Rangers team that has been lining its pockets with wins for three weeks running - 9-3 since the All-Star break and coming off a second straight sweep of a road trip. They have come back home to spend a Saturday night on Broadway, and Ryan Strome, for one, is expecting at least this:

"The Garden's gonna be rockin'."

Strome, Zibanejad and Panarin - all the Rangers, really - come in rolling: 11 goals in the team's two-game Moms Trip takedown of Chicago and Carolina, with six different players scoring goals in the Windy City win and five different Rangers scoring in Raleigh. Those three players in particular carry growing point streaks into Saturday night's match: eight games for Panarin, a career-high seven games for Strome, and six games for Zibanejad - who ran off seven points in the two-game road trip Wednesday and Friday.

And then there is Igor Shesterkin, 8-1 as an NHL goaltender, stopping 64 of 69 shots (.928) on the trip to improve to 3-0 on the road. The rookie made 27 stops in the Rangers' victory Friday night in Raleigh to complete yet another season sweep of the Hurricanes - the Rangers' fifth in nine seasons - and to inch even closer to the pack of teams fighting for the Wild Card positioning. Entering Saturday it was Columbus owning that second Wild Card slot; the Rangers moved within five points of them, with two games in hand, and to within four points of the team they beat on Friday night in a game that had a bit of playoff feel on the ice.

With a non-conference game against a Sharks team that's out of the West race on deck less than 24 hours later, Strome was almost sounding a note of caution as he and the Rangers packed up for home.

"It's important we get on the plane here and enjoy this one tonight and be really ready to go at the Garden," Strome said immediately after the 5-2 win over the Canes. "It would be really easy to have a letdown game (Saturday) and we've got to avoid that -- you're coming off such high emotions (Friday night), and we've got to bring the same effort (Saturday). The Garden's gonna be rockin', and we've got to be flying from the start."

The note his Head Coach sounded, though, was confidence that it would not be an issue.

"I hope our guys are math majors and they understand where we're at and how many games we have left, regardless of our opponent," Quinn said. "We're expecting to come out ready to go."

There was math involved back on Dec. 12 in San Jose, given the numbers Zibanejad and Panarin put up in the late stages of a 6-3 Ranger win. Down 3-2 near the midpoint of the third in that game, the Rangers ran off four goals in a span of 8:47 - the first two by Zibanejad, the next two by Panarin to complete his third career hat trick, his first as a Ranger.

Brenden Dillon had scored the go-ahead goal for San Jose before the Rangers took that game over, and Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl also scored. It is unlikely any of those three will play in Saturday's game, and the list of missing Sharks has interim coach Bob Boughner - who took the reins from Pete DeBoer the day before that Dec. 12 game - wondering where the offense will come from on a nightly basis.

Their captain, Couture, has not played since fracturing an ankle on Jan. 7 in St. Louis - though he did take part in the Sharks' pregame skate Saturday morning at the Garden. A broken thumb has ended the season of their two-time Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson, and a knee injury has done the same to Hertl, who had 36 points in 48 games when he went down. On Tuesday, Dillon was dealt to Washington after six seasons in San Jose.

The Sharks, at least, will get their leading scorer, Evander Kane, back on Saturday night, after he completed his suspension for an elbow on Winnipeg's Neal Pionk. Kane, in the midst of his fifth straight 20-goal season (he has 21), served the last of his three-game ban as the Sharks went down in the opener of a four-game road trip, 2-1 in Newark on Thursday night - a loss that ended a four-game road winning streak. Defenseman Tim Heed was the San Jose goal-scorer, with assists from two rookies: Jacob Middleton (in his fifth NHL game this season) and Alex True (his fourth assist in his seventh NHL game).

But a strength for the Sharks - their NHL-leading penalty kill - couldn't keep a clean sheet on a night they went shorthanded six times, with P.K. Subban's power-play goal snapping a third-period tie. San Jose could beat Mackenzie Blackwood just once on 37 shots.
"Those are the games where you sort of see that lack of offense, that lack of skill that's out of our lineup," Boughner said.

Aaron Dell is expected to start in goal for San Jose. The status of Filip Chytil (upper body) remains up in the air after the center took just two shifts early in the third on Friday night.


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
20 Kreider - 93 Zibanejad - 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
33 Di Giuseppe - 72 Chytil - 24 Kakko
48 Lemieux - 21 Howden - 12 Gauthier

76 Skjei - 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren - 23 Fox
18 Staal - 77 DeAngelo

40 Georgiev
31 Shesterkin

SHARKS
28 Meier - 19 Thornton - 62 Labanc
9 Kane - 23 Goodrow - 12 Marleau
11 Noesen - 46 Kellman - 20 Sorensen
7 Gambrell - 70 True - 73 Gregor

51 Simek - 88 Burns
44 Vlasic - 38 Ferraro
67 Middleton - 72 Heed

30 Dell
31 Jones


NUMBERS GAME

The Rangers have outscored opponents 19-7 in third periods over the last eight games, and 75-54 in third periods this season. The Sharks have been outscored 79-47 in thirds.

On Friday night Artemi Panarin picked up his 400th (and 401st) points in his 381st NHL game. Panarin is one of five active players to surpass 400 points in his first five NHL seasons (Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, McDavid).

Panarin scored his 31st goal of the season on Friday night; his next goal will establish a new career high. Three of those goals came on Dec. 12 in San Jose, when he put up his first hat trick as a Ranger.

Panarin is on an eight-game point streak; he had a career-high 12-game run this season, from Oct. 24 to Nov. 20.

Mika Zibanejad has 22 points (nine goals) in the last 13 games. He is eighth in the League with .57 goals per game (tied with Leon Draisaitl), and ninth with 1.26 points per game.

The Rangers are 6-1 the last seven games Jesper Fast has scored a goal.

The Blueshirts are 6-3 in the second games of back-to-backs, with wins in three straight.

San Jose has the League's top penalty kill at 85.8 percent.

The Sharks are 27th in the League in scoring at 2.57 goals per game.

San Jose is 11-14-2 since Bob Boughner took over from Peter DeBoer, starting with a Dec. 12 loss to the Rangers.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brady Skjei's goal on Friday night was the game-winner against the Hurricanes - the blueliner's first game-winning goal since he beat the Sharks 37 seconds into overtime on Oct. 11, 2018, to clinch David Quinn's first NHL win. Skjei has made the scoresheet in four straight games against the Sharks, and has more points against San Jose - nine of them in seven career games - than any other NHL opponent.

Brent Burns, who had a six-game point streak snapped on Thursday in New Jersey, leads the Sharks with 41 points; if he finishes that way it would be the fourth straight season the blueliner has led San Jose in scoring. He sees the seventh-most ice in the League at 24:59 per game.

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