RANGERS vs. CANADIENS, 7 p.m.
Madison Square Garden
MSG Network, 98.7 FM
The last time the Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens shared an ice surface, the Canadiens were trudging off their home ice while the Rangers were celebrating one of the biggest comeback victories in the franchise's history.
That was less than two weeks ago, and in the interim the teams have been headed in divergent directions, with the Blueshirts having leapfrogged the Habs in the standings by one point with two games in hand as the Original Six rivals convene for a rematch on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
Thursday night's Alexandar Georgiev-backstopped victory over the Blue Jackets - aided by Artemi Panarin's team-leading 13th goal and 34th point in his return to Columbus - was the Rangers' fifth in their last seven games (5-1-1) starting with their comeback win in Montreal, and pushed them to 12-6-3 since Oct. 24. Georgiev made 45 saves against the Blue Jackets, the second-highest total of his career, to win his third straight start and go to 6-2 over his last eight.
But his recent lights-out run - the 23-year-old netminder has stopped 100 of 103 shots - can best be traced back to the second period at the Bell Centre two Saturdays ago, when Georgiev put the clamps down on a 4-0 game while his teammates scratched and clawed to a 6-5 win.
And so, David Quinn appears ready to go right back to Georgiev to oppose Carey Price once again as the Rangers complete their third back-to-back in the last two weeks, facing a Canadiens team whose loss to the Blueshirts back on Nov. 23 was their fourth in a row, a slide on which they have yet to hit the brakes. Montreal's home-ice win over the Islanders on Tuesday is its only victory in the last 10 games, a 1-6-3 run during which they have been outscored 43-26.
The Canadiens have allowed 100 goals, second-most in the NHL, in their 29 games.
As for a Ranger defense that has allowed just 13 goals over the last six games, Marc Staal is in line to rejoin the lineup on Friday night after missing the last 13 games because an infection in his ankle required surgery. The timing turns out to be opportune, coming one night after rookie Libor Hajek went down with a sprained knee in the first period against the Blue Jackets.
The Habs will have their own injury change thrust upon them, a night after Jesperi Kotkaniemi, their second-year 19-year-old winger, was upended and hit the ice hard on a check from Colorado's Nikita Zadorov. One report said Kotkaniemi suffered a concussion on the play; Claude Julien said his club felt was a "dirty hit" and "definitely a suspendable move."
Cayden Primeau, son of Keith Primeau, made 32 saves in his NHL debut in that game, in which the Habs spotted the Colorado Avalanche a three-goal lead before falling, 3-2. Price will face the Rangers for the 29th time in the regular season.
Both teams in this game have heavy road slates ahead. Following Friday night's match the Rangers head out on their first West Coast swing of the season, beginning on Sunday in Las Vegas against a Golden Knights team that won at the Garden on Monday - a game that snapped the Rangers' four-game winning streak on Broadway. The Blueshirts, 5-1-1 in their last seven games overall, also are 5-1-1 in their last seven on Garden ice dating a month back to Nov. 6.
What's left of the Habs' December schedule does them few favors: Of their 11 remaining games this month, nine are on the road, including a two-week, seven-game trip through Western Canada, then down to Florida, and finishing in Carolina on New Year's Eve.
Before the game, the Rangers assigned Boo Nieves to Hartford. Greg McKegg, out six games with a lower-body injury, or Micheal Haley could step back in.
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 20 Kreider
48 Lemieux - 93 Zibanejad - 24 Kakko
17 Fast - 72 Chytil - 89 Buchnevich
14 McKegg - 21 Howden - 42 Smith
76 Skjei - 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren - 23 Fox
18 Staal - 77 DeAngelo
90 Tatar - 24 Danault - 11 Gallagher
21 Cousins - 13 Domi - 54 Hudon
62 Lehkonen - 14 Suzuki - 40 Armia
63 Peca - 44 Thompson - 43 Weal
8 Chiarot - 6 Weber
17 Kulak - 26 Petry
64 Leskinen - 20 Fleury
The 11 goals scored in the Nov. 23 meeting between the Rangers and Canadiens was the rivals' highest-scoring regular-season matchup since a 7-4 Ranger win on Jan. 3, 1996.
The Rangers rank ninth in the League in goals per game at 3.22; the Canadiens are 10th, at 3.21.
Jacob Trouba's goal on Thursday in Columbus was the 24th by Rangers defensemen this season, most in the NHL.
The Blueshirts are completing their fifth back-to-back set of the season; they have won the second leg three straight times. The Habs are 1-3-2 in second games of back-to-backs this season.
The Canadiens and Red Wings are the only teams that have surrendered at least 100 goals this season.
Joel Armia has 31 shots on goal, with three goals (9.7%), in the last five games. Since the start of November he is ninth in the NHL with 63 shots.
After Friday night, nine of the Rangers' next 13 games are away from Madison Square Garden. The Canadiens, 5-4-3 on the road this season, play nine of their next 11 games away from home and in all three time zones.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brendan Lemieux, playing in his 99th NHL game Friday night, has scored in back-to-back games and is riding his second three-game point streak of the season, his career high. He has scored four times in four career games against his dad's former team, including a two-goal game on Nov. 23 in Montreal in which his first career shorthanded goal tied the score at 5-5.
Philip Danault, tied for third on the Canadiens with 22 points (7-15--22), has 11 points in 12 career games against the Rangers, his most against any opponent. All but one of Danault's 22 points this season, an assist, have come at even strength.
"If you want to be a playoff team your goalie's got to steal some games, and we've had a couple. There's at least two I can think of off the top of my head, and tonight is one of them. You don't want to rely on that all the time but it's nice to steal one."
--Jacob Trouba after Alexandar Georgiev's 45 saves in Columbus