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GAME DAY: Rangers Host Champs in Game 6,500

Georgiev Gets the Net as Garden Homestand Continues; Blues Seek Eighth Straight Win

by Michael Obernauer

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

GAME DAY
The Blueshirts could use "a deep breath," David Quinn said after their most recent match. After 6,499 hockey games, who couldn't?

The Rangers on Tuesday night will play the 6,500th regular-season game in the history of a franchise whose roots in New York stretch back 94 years, ever since Game No. 1 faced off on Nov. 16, 1926, at the old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Ave. between 49th and 50th.

The Rangers were winners in that very first game, by a 1-0 score on a goal by Bun Cook to beat that year's defending Stanley Cup champions, the Montreal Maroons. In Game No. 6,500, the defending champs are coming to Broadway again.

In fact, as Ryan Strome pointed out, "We have the two last Stanley Cup champions coming in here." With the Washington Capitals on deck Thursday, on Tuesday it is the St. Louis Blues, 2019's champs, who come into Madison Square Garden -- and who are bringing their seven-game winning streak with them.

The Rangers can lay claim along with the Blues to being one of the League's hotter teams of late -- 9-3 over the last 12 is a compelling case -- but it is the weekend they are emerging from that had Quinn eager for a chance to exhale. The Blueshirts dropped both ends of a home-and-home with another of the NHL's hottest teams, the Philadelphia Flyers, and lost Chris Kreider to a fractured foot in the first period of the opener.

Quinn said after Monday's practice in Westchester that one of his messages to his team that day was "Do not get discouraged," and Mika Zibanejad believes that these Rangers are far better equipped now to heed those words than they were, say, when they faced the Blues for the first time this year, on Jan. 11 in St. Louis.

"I feel like this season, early on we were maybe a little bit too high after wins and maybe too low after losses," said Zibanejad, who has eight goals in the last eight games and a career-high 32 in 52 games this season. "We've been keeping that balance I think better as a group -- matured, and as a group came together. I'm hoping we can show that (Tuesday) and get back into the winning column."

When asked if his team feels like a group that just lost back-to-back games or a team that has gone 9-3 over the last three weeks, Zibanejad answered straight away -- "Nine and three," he said. "We worked very hard to get ourselves into the situation we're in right now and really give ourselves a chance to play meaningful games up until April -- and I hope well after that.

"It's easy to kind of get down. We've just got to stay the course, I think."

"You look at our league, it can be a streaky league," added Quinn, whose team hasn't lost three straight since around New Year's Eve, "and one of the things that we just talked about was, listen, we got through a tough stretch, we've won a lot of hockey games lately -- do not get discouraged. Kind of press the reset button get back at it (Tuesday)."

To that point, the opener of that home-and-home against Philadelphia was the end of a February schedule in which the Rangers played 15 games and won 11 of them, a franchise record for February. It also started a stretch of 18 games for the Blueshirts of which 15 are against teams currently in or tied for a playoff position. Zibanejad, for one, believes his team will embrace the challenge.

"Playing against teams like that I think raises the playoff feel for you a little bit," he said. "Big games for them as well, and obviously for us. I wouldn't say it's a good test for us, but it's definitely where we to have to raise our game -- but understand that we don't have to do anything special.

"I mean, we didn't go on those winning streaks and we didn't win those games just by a fluke. We've just got to get back to that."

Alexandar Georgiev had a big hand in the separate winning streaks of four games and then five games that the Rangers put together in February, and he will start for the fourth time in the last five on Tuesday night. Georgiev's second-highest save total of last season came at the Garden against the Blues, when he stopped 44 of 46 shots as the Rangers scored the final four goals in 4-2 win. That was St. Louis' only non-shootout loss in their last 12 games of the 2018-19 regular season before they would go on to win the Stanley Cup.

For evidence of a streaky League, look to the Blues, who come to Broadway riding their third seven-game winning streak of the season, the first time in franchise history they have done that -- though this one follows a stretch of 12 games in which they went 2-7-3.

But while the streak has put them at the top of the Western Conference standings, it has gained them no separation from the Colorado Avalanche in a horse race atop the Central Division. Colorado's win on Monday night pushed its own winning streak to seven games, and they sit one point behind St. Louis with a game in hand on the Blues. 

St. Louis, though, expects to add a weapon to its holster for the stretch run: Vladimir Tarasenko, out since October shoulder surgery, is expected back soon -- he traveled with his teammates for their three-game road trip that starts Tuesday at the Garden, though it is only to practice with them and not to play. 

The Blues will be without Jay Bouwmeester for at least the remainder of this season, after their veteran defenseman suffered a cardiac episode during a game in Anaheim on Feb. 11.

Defenseman Colton Parayko did not practice with the Blues on Monday because he was sick, but Coach Craig Berube said "he should be fine" for Tuesday. The Blues have had two days off in the leadup to it, and will have two days off after it, until they the Devils in Newark on Friday. On Monday the Blues, who played 26 playoff games into June last year, held their first full practice since early February. 


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
33 Di Giuseppe -- 93 Zibanejad -- 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
21 Howden -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
48 Lemieux -- 14 McKegg -- 12 Gauthier

42 Smith -- 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox
18 Staal -- 77 DeAngelo

40 Georgiev
30 Lundqvist

BLUES
17 Schwartz -- 90 O'Reilly -- 10 Schenn
12 Sanford -- 18 Thomas -- 57 Perron
20 Steen -- 21 Bozak -- 61 de la Rose
9 Blais -- 49 Barbashev -- 70 Sundqvist

4 Gunnarsson -- 27 Pietrangelo
6 Scandella -- 55 Parayko
29 Dunn -- 72 Faulk

50 Binnington
34 Allen


NUMBERS GAME

Both the Rangers and Blues have 30 wins in regulation, tied for fourth-most in the League.

Mika Zibanejad's two-goal, one-assist game against the Flyers on Sunday was his 20th multi-point game this season, and his seventh with three or more points.

Tony DeAngelo and Alex Pietrangelo have identical numbers -- 13 goals and 49 points -- good for a fifth-place tie in scoring among NHL defensemen. Pietrangelo has played 65 games to DeAngelo's 63. DeAngelo played a career-high 27:13 on Sunday against Philly.

Artemi Panarin has the League's longest active point streak at 13 games, a career high that bests the 12-game streak he put together in October and November. Panarin is fourth in NHL scoring with 90 points.

St. Louis has won seven straight games. In the first four games of their streak they outscored opponents 13-2; in the last three the scores have been 12-10, with one win in OT and another in a shootout.

Ryan O'Reilly will play his 800th NHL game. The former Avalanche and Sabres center has 195 goals, 557 points and only 106 penalty minutes in the first 799.

The Blues are 18-2-10 in one-goal games. Only Columbus (19) has won more one-goal games.

The Blues are one of three teams who have received double-digit goals from 10 different players (Avalanche, Predators). The Rangers have eight players with 10 or more goals.

The Rangers are 7-3 vs. the Central Division. St. Louis is 6-1-4 against the Metropolitan.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Filip Chytil had a goal and an assist in the Rangers' Jan. 11 visit to St. Louis -- his setup coming to Brett Howden, who will be his left winger Tuesday night. Chytil has nine points in 20 games against Western Conference teams this year.

Brayden Schenn has goals in four straight games, after scoring three times in his previous 24. Schenn's 24 goals this season trail only David Perron's 25 on the Blues; a team-high 10 of Schenn's goals have come on power plays.

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