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GAME DAY: Mika & Henrik Lead Rangers vs. Canes

Zibanejad Is Back as Blueshirts Look to Stretch Garden Streak

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. HURRICANES, 7 p.m.
Madison Square Garden
MSG+, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
The Rangers will go for their third straight win, and their fourth in a row on home ice, on the eve of Thanksgiving at Madison Square Garden, where they have points in eight of their last 10 games (6-2-2). But those aren't the numbers that concern the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Blueshirts will go for their 17th win in 18 Garden visits from the Canes, and in doing so will give Carolina another dose of Henrik Lundqvist, who will be playing for the Rangers for the 1,000th time in the regular season and playoffs combined, and whose career dominance over Carolina added a sparkling new chapter in the teams' first meeting on Nov. 7 in Raleigh. Lundqvist stopped all 22 shots he saw in the frantic first period of that game and finished his night with 45 saves, his highest total in two seasons, in a 4-2 Ranger win.

That victory moved Lundqvist to 31-12-1 in his career against Carolina, with a 1.98 GAA and .934 save percentage; only Lundqvist's career numbers against the Red Wings are better.

"Obviously we know what happened: We went down there and Hank stole two points for us," David Quinn said. "So I'm sure we're going to have an angry opponent (Wednesday) night."

Wednesday's opponent is something of a different Carolina team than in seasons past, and perhaps even a different Carolina team than the Rangers saw on Nov. 7, when they were in the midst of a four-game skid. Since that losing streak, the Canes are 6-1 and coming off their third shutout victory of the season, on Sunday in Detroit. Like the Rangers, Carolina comes to the Garden Wednesday night seeking its third straight win, and its fifth in a row away from home.

But in that Nov. 7 matchup the Hurricanes did not have to face Mika Zibanejad, which they will on Wednesday night as the Rangers' leading scorer from a season ago makes his return after missing the last 13 games with an upper-body injury. Zibanejad practiced with teammates on Tuesday and was cleared to come back from his longest absence in three seasons, something that Quinn said "gives us more energy and more swagger, because he makes everybody feel a little bit better."

This for a team that is feeling plenty good coming out of its last two games, both of them come-from-behind wins after trailing in the third period. The deficit was 4-0 on Saturday in Montreal, when the Rangers erased a four-goal deficit to win for just the fourth time in franchise history. Two nights later against the Minnesota Wild they had the Garden rocking when Chris Kreider's power-play goal tied the score with 2:50 left, and Tony DeAngelo's seventh of the season won it, 3-2, on the first shift of overtime.

That win was No. 455 of Lundqvist's career, moving him into the Top 5 in NHL history.

"I think it was just another display of determination and grit," Kreider said, "not dissimilar from what we did on Saturday in Montreal. Obviously you want to not play every game coming from behind and winning, but I think it was a testament to kind of stick-to-itiveness of the group, something we talked about and something that we were missing earlier in the season."

"I think we lose that game three weeks ago," Quinn said on Monday's win, pointing out that it was the Rangers' third game in four nights and fourth in six, and came right on the heels of their taxing four-goal comeback on the road. "One of the things I didn't think we had a lot of was energy. … The way that game unfolded on Saturday night, not only that you're playing, but boy, the mental highs and lows within that game can get draining. I thought we did a really good job (Monday) of managing a night where we didn't have the amount of energy we usually need to have to win. And I think that's a great sign."

Kreider will hop onto the left side of Zibanejad in the center's return, with Pavel Buchnevich on the right, reuniting familiar linemates while also keeping intact the partnership of Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin that has paid such dividends for the Rangers while Zibanejad has been out. In Monday's game against Minnesota, Panarin assisted on all three of the Rangers' goals to push his team-leading total to 30 points (12-18--30). The winger has points in 14 of the Rangers' last 15 games, and multiple points in nine of those, including a goal and an assist on Nov. 7 in Raleigh.

Brendan Lemieux scored his first of the season in that game in Carolina, an enormous goal that gave the Rangers the lead that Lundqvist would see through to the end. Lemieux potted two more enormous goals on Saturday in Montreal, including his first career shorthanded goal that tied the score 5-5 to complete the comeback.

"I think our game has been trending in the right direction; we're playing good hockey," Lemieux said. "You can tell that we're finding our stride as a group."

The Canes have been trending in the right direction too, six wins out of their last seven games, powered by a potent, and young, line of Sebastian Aho (22), Andrei Svechnikov (19) and Teuvo Teravainen (25). Svechnikov, the Canes' leading scorer, carries an eight-game point streak in the Garden, and during that stretch the line has combined for 34 points (14-20--34).

"We've seen some top lines before," Quinn said. "The thing that impresses me about (the Hurricanes) is, they don't take many nights off, if any. They play at a pace, there's an edge to their game, they've got skill, they've got a real good D corps. We're going to have to be on our toes (Wednesday) night because they're deep up front as well." 


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
20 Kreider - 93 Zibanejad - 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
48 Lemieux - 72 Chytil - 24 Kakko
15 Nieves - 21 Howden - 42 Smith

76 Skjei - 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren - 23 Fox
25 Hajek - 77 DeAngelo

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

HURRICANES
37 Svechnikov - 20 Aho - 86 Teravainen
21 Niederreiter - 11 J. Staal - 13 Foegele
18 Dzingel - 71 Wallmark - 88 Necas
23 McGinn - 43 Luostarinen - 48 Martinook

74 Slavin - 19 Hamilton
6 Edmundson - 22 Pesce
51 Gardiner - 4 Fleury

34 Mrazek
47 Reimer


NUMBERS GAME

Henrik Lundqvist will make his 1,000th appearance for the Rangers - his 872nd in the regular season, to go along with 128 in the playoffs. He will become the sixth man to play for the Rangers in 1,000 regular season and playoff games combined.

Lundqvist has allowed 13 goals in his last nine games against the Hurricanes, never more than two in a game. He is 8-1-0 in that span, with a 1.45/.960.

The Blueshirts have held opponents to two or fewer goals in eight of their last 15 games. They are 9-0 this season when doing so, including a 4-2 win on Nov. 7 in Raleigh.

Rangers have 19 goals from defensemen this season, second-most in the NHL behind only Carolina's 20. Dougie Hamilton's 10 goals lead all NHL blueliners; Tony DeAngelo's seven goals are tied for fourth. 

Hamilton has scored 28 times since the start of 2018-19; no other NHL defenseman has more than Morgan Rielly's 23.

Andrei Svechnikov has 12 points (5-7--12) during his eight-game point streak. He is one of only two teenagers in franchise history to put together a point streak of eight games or longer, along with Ron Francis, who did it three times as a Whaler.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mika Zibanejad, back from a one-month absence with an upper-body injury, has more points (20) against the Hurricanes than any other opponent. Twelve of those points have come in nine games as a Ranger.

Andrei Svechnikov's 27 points lead the Hurricanes and place him second in the NHL among Russian players, behind Artemi Panarin's 30. Svechnikov, 19, was the No. 2 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.

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