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GAME DAY: Rangers Go For Sweep in Motor City

Cap Home-and-Home vs. Wings with Lundqvist Set to Start & Zibanejad's Impact Mounting

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at RED WINGS, 7 p.m.
Little Caesars Arena
MSG 2, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
The Rangers got a reminder on Friday night, even after just a one-game absence, of what it means to have Artemi Panarin back in their lineup, and they saw too another glimpse of the potential that newcomer Igor Shesterkin has in goal. But the Blueshirts have had Mika Zibanejad back and healthy for two months now, and after Friday night's Madison Square Garden win over the Red Wings, David Quinn almost struggled to find the words of how important that is to his hockey club.

"I can't say enough great things about him, not only what you see on the ice but what you see away from the rink," the Head Coach said. "He is everything you want in a player. He's coachable, he's a great teammate, he plays 200 feet. Really, I could go on for a long time about him. We're lucky to have him."

As the Rangers opened up a home-and-home with the Red Wings on Friday night to kick off the season's unofficial second half, Zibanejad led everyone with a goal and two assists in the Blueshirts' 4-2 win - giving him 200 points as a Ranger. It was Zibanejad's second straight game with multiple points, his fifth in the last eight - and his 14th this season, which ties him for 16th place in the NHL in spite of the fact that he lost a full month to injury.

Tied at No. 4 on that list is Panarin, whose goal and assist on Friday was his 21st multi-point game. Quinn could go on and on about either one of those players, except that time is tight in between Friday's win and Saturday's return match in Motown.

The Rangers and Red Wings are playing one another on consecutive nights for the first time in two decades, and on Saturday night the Blueshirts go into Detroit with a chance not only to sweep the home-and-home set, but also the three-game season series with their Original Six rival.

It was Henrik Lundqvist who started it with a 35-save win over the Wings on Nov. 6 at the Garden, and it will be Henrik Lundqvist who can finish it, with his first post-All-Star start. He served in backup duties on Friday at the Garden as Shesterkin made 23 saves for his third NHL win.

Lundqvist will face the Red Wings for the 20th time. His 1.95 goals-against average and .938 save percentage against the Red Wings are his best numbers against any opponent in his career - and that last number is a better save percentage than anyone who has ever faced the Red Wings at least 10 times.

Pavel Buchnevich, meanwhile, will return to a place where he got his torrid finish to last season jumpstarted in earnest. Buchnevich scored twice at Little Caesars Arena back on March 7, supplying all the Rangers' scoring including the game-tying goal with 5:31 left to get the visitors an overtime point. It was the start of Buchnevich's nine-goals-in-17-games run to finish 2018-19.

Buchnevich scored a big one on Friday night, too, providing the Rangers' breakthrough on Jimmy Howard 9:23 into the second off a terrific Zibanejad setup. All three members of that line - Buchnevich, Zibanejad, Chris Kreider - scored for the Blueshirts, Kreider for the 11th time in the last 17 games.

"I thought Buchie had a good night, and I thought that line was really good," Quinn said after the game. "It wasn't just all about Mika. I thought Kreids and Buchie had a good night as well."

The Rangers were playing for the first time after a nine-day break; the Red Wings were coming off an eight-day layoff, but lost for the seventh straight time. They threatened to make a game of it with two goals in the third, something the Rangers felt was self-inflicted after Zibanejad's power-play goal had stretched the lead to a comfortable 4-0. "That's on us and we're going to tighten that up tomorrow," Zibanejad said after the game.

Robby Fabbri broke up Igor Shesterkin's shutout at 5:59 of the third off a steal and setup from Dylan Larkin, who didn't look hobbled making the play but was. He had briefly left the game in the second period after he couldn't dodge a full-windup blast from Tyler Bertuzzi and wound up taking it in the side of his right knee, where the padding ends. Detroit's leading scorer, who stretched his point streak to four games, was seen limping after the game but told Detroit reporters, "Luckily everything is okay."

The Wings expect Andreas Athanasiou (lower body) to sit out at least Saturday's game before returning. And while Howard played well on Friday and has posted stellar numbers against the Rangers throughout his career, after he has allowed eight goals in two games against them this season it could be Calvin Pickard's turn to take just his second NHL start this season. Pickard, an emergency call-up last Sunday, shut out the Rangers with 31 saves last season as a Flyer, but has allowed nine goals in his other two starts against the Blueshirts.


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
20 Kreider - 93 Zibanejad - 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
48 Lemieux - 72 Chytil - 24 Kakko
21 Howden - 14 McKegg - 42 Smith

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

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

RED WINGS
59 Bertuzzi - 71 Larkin - 11 Zadina
29 Perlini - 51 Filppula - 14 Fabbri
43 Helm - 81 Nielsen - 73 Erne
8 Abdelkader - 41 Glendening - 48 G. Smith

22 Nemeth - 17 Hronek
52 Ericsson - 3 Biega
74 Bowey - 21 Cholowski

31 Pickard
35 Howard


NUMBERS GAME

The Rangers' 15 games in February tie a franchise record for most in the month - they played 15 in February 1956, also a Leap Year.

The Rangers and Red Wings will meet on a second straight night for the first time since March 26 and 27, 2000.

Mika Zibanejad reached 200 points in his 246th game as a Ranger. He is in his fourth season in New York: 
   First two seasons: 128 games played, 41 goals, 43 assists, 84 points
   Last two seasons: 118 games played, 49 goals, 67 assists, 116 points

The Rangers finished Friday's game with zero penalty minutes, for the first time since April 9, 2017 against Pittsburgh, which was a regular-season finale in which both teams' playoff seedings were already set.

The Blueshirts went 1-for-3 on power plays Friday and now have PPGs in six of their last eight games (9-for-26, 34.6% during the span). Detroit has allowed a power-play goal in seven of its last nine games, and the Wings' penalty kill remains last in the NHL at 73.1 percent.

Since March 2012, the Rangers have points in 18 of 21 games against Detroit (12-3-6). During that span, Henrik Lundqvist is 8-2-5/1.49/.952, and has shut out the Wings four times.

Lundqvist's .938 career save percentage against Detroit is the best in NHL history (minimum 10 games).

The Red Wings have at League-worst 28 points, at 12-36-4. But the Rangers can become the first team from the Eastern Conference to sweep the season series with them.

On Friday night Jimmy Howard fell to 0-15-2 over his last 17 games, and 2-20-2 on the season. His last win came on Oct. 29. Calvin Pickard has played three games, and is 0-2/5.46/.797.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Pavel Buchnevich has points in five straight games against the Red Wings, including two goals in his last visit to Detroit, last March 7. Buchnevich has scored in back-to-back games spanning the All-Star break.

Valtteri Filppula will play in his 1,000th NHL game; his parents have traveled to Detroit from Finland to attend it. Filppula had gone 27 games without a goal before scoring in the third period of Friday's home-and-home opener at the Garden. He has 189 goals and 511 points in 999 games for the Red Wings, Lightning, Flyers and Islanders.

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