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GAME DAY: Rangers Host Wild on Hockey Fights Cancer Night

First of Two Garden Games This Week With Zibanejad Return Looming

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. WILD, 7 p.m.
Hockey Fights Cancer Night supported by Northwell Health
Madison Square Garden
MSG Network, 98.7 FM

GAME DAY
Coming off an emotional finish North of the border, the Rangers are in line for an emotional start back at home.

The Blueshirts are back on Broadway to take on the Minnesota Wild on Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Madison Square Garden. The game itself is a matchup of two teams who were on the opposite ends of thrilling comebacks in their games on Saturday night, with the Rangers looking to carry forward the feeling of their rally in Montreal and the Wild looking for to put their late collapse in Boston behind them.

And on the subject of coming back, Minnesota's Mats Zuccarello will make his return to the Garden to play against the Rangers for the first time in his career.

Through all of that, once the puck drops a little past 7 o'clock, the Rangers' focus will be solely on building momentum off of one of the most stirring comeback victories the franchise has ever had. The Blueshirts trailed by four goals in the second period of Saturday night's game at the Bell Centre, then stormed back to score six of the next seven and leave Canada with a rousing 6-5 win.

"We talked about it during the game in Montreal: When things were going a little tough, just trust each other," said Henrik Lundqvist, who will get the nets Monday against Minnesota's Alex Stalock. "When we do that, and we play a tougher game, keep that intensity and the focus and trust that everybody's doing their part, we have a much better chance of winning games."

"One of the things that I felt very good about the other night was, we've been a team before, but there was a different feeling on the bench," David Quinn said on Monday. "When you put so many new faces together, finding your identity and finding a niche and finding the chemistry takes a little bit of time, and I think we've been trying to find that. But it felt different the other night; it felt different when we got down 3-nothing, it felt different we got down 4-nothing, it felt different when we got down 5-3. It was probably the most emotion we've had on the bench.

"It just felt a little bit different. Our goal is to carry that over."

They will try to do so without Mika Zibanejad for what will be their 13th consecutive game missing their No. 1 center, but what the Rangers will hoping will be the last. Zibanejad, who was injured on Oct. 27 but has been skating regularly, joined his teammates for Monday's morning skate at the Garden, and Quinn said the Rangers are targeting Wednesday's Garden match with Carolina for his return.

Zibanejad played just nine games this season before suffering his upper-body injury against Boston, after being the only Ranger to play in all 82 games last season. He hasn't had this long an injury layoff since a broken leg in November of 2016 cost him two months of his first season as a Ranger.

"This was one step in the right direction to be out there for the whole skate, and skate afterwards," Zibanejad said on Monday. "It's been difficult at times. You break your leg, you know exactly how many weeks that's going to be; this situation has been a bit different. When you don't really have a timetable you try to take it day by day, and that's frustrating in a sense, even for me, and for the fans, but that's the only way we've been able to treat this, treat the situation and handle it.

"It hasn't been the most fun time. But I'm just trying to stay positive and I'm looking forward to getting back."

While Zibanejad nears a return, another center, Greg McKegg, who left Saturday's game with a lower-body injury, will not play against Minnesota; he'll be replaced by Boo Nieves, who was called up from Hartford on Sunday. Nieves, who played 43 games for the Rangers last season, had eight points in 20 games for Hartford prior to his promotion.

Monday's game will be extra special for various players and for different reasons: On the Rangers' side for a pair of defensemen who grew up in Minnesota rooting for the Wild. It will be Brady Skjei's seventh career game against his childhood team and Ryan Lindgren's first.

Lindgren's dad was a Wild season-ticket holder whose son grew up idolizing Ryan Suter. "I loved watching him play and I was very happy when they signed them back when they did," said Lindgren, who played at Shattuck St. Mary and, like Skjei, the University of Minnesota. "Heck of a player. It's going to be really cool playing against him for the first time."

Suter and his team have points in five straight (3-0-2) but are coming off an overtime loss on Saturday in Boston in which they held a 4-2 lead with under two minutes left, before David Krejci scored twice in 48 seconds to tie and Torey Krug won it in OT.

And then, of course, there is Zuccarello, who has played 530 regular-season games in the NHL, all but 21 of those for the Rangers and never one, until Monday night, against them. Zuccarello had a chance to visit with some former teammates with the Rangers having a day off on Sunday following their Canadian back-to-back, and on Monday morning, standing in a visitors' dressing room at the Garden that he had never seen before, said he isn't sure how the emotions will hit him.

"I really enjoyed my time here, and (Ranger fans) are a very big part of that," Zuccarello said. "So it's going to be fun. I'll just really enjoy the moment.

"You've got to treat it as any other game, a road game: You come in here and we want to do our best trying to win. But obviously it's a little bit more special for me and emotional for me to come in here and see everyone that I know and spent so many good years with here."


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
20 Kreider - 72 Chytil - 89 Buchnevich
48 Lemieux - 21 Howden - 24 Kakko
42 Smith - 15 Nieves - 38 Haley

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

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

WILD
16 Zucker - 12 Staal - 36 Zuccarello
11 Parise - 9 Koivu - 22 Fiala
18 Greenway - 14 Eriksson Ek - 19 Kunin
6 Donato - 49 Rask - 38 Hartman

20 Suter - 46 Spurgeon
25 Brodin - 24 Dumba
21 Soucy - 77 Hunt

32 Stalock
31 Kahkonen


NUMBERS GAME

Saturday's win in Montreal marked the third time in their 21 games this season the Rangers have scored six goals in a game; they did so twice in 2018-19.

The Rangers' comeback victory on Saturday night in Montreal was the fifth game in the League this season in which a team has won after trailing by four goals, equaling the total of the 10 previous seasons combined.

The Blueshirts are 4-1-1 in their last six games on Garden ice.

Minnesota sits second-to-last in the Western Conference with 21 points, a 9-11-3 record that includes a 1-6 start.

The Wild will be playing their 24th game of the season and 17th on the road, where they are 4-10-1.

Mats Zuccarello played 509 games for the Rangers, 33rd-most in Blueshirts history, and is 15th all-time among Rangers with 239 assists.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Filip Chytil's second-period goal that got the Ranger comeback started was the 20-year-old's seventh goal in 12 games with the Rangers this season, second on the team in that span to Artemi Panarin's 12.

Jason Zucker has goals in three straight games and leads the Wild with eight this season, four of them on power plays.


WHADDYA SAY?

"We've all been touched by cancer in some way, shape or form; I lost my father to cancer 2010. You stand behind that bench in every arena this month and pay tribute to these people that are putting forth a courageous battle -- not only them but the families of the people that go through it -- it gets emotional. No matter how many times you stand behind that bench and you honor people, acknowledge people that are fighting the fight, it hits home for sure. Tonight will be another emotional night for everybody."

-- David Quinn

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