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GAME DAY: Rangers 'Ready to Battle' in Philly

Last Game Before Christmas is Season's First Showdown with Flyers

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at FLYERS, 7 p.m.
Wells Fargo Center
MSG2, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
With a complete, 60-minute victory on Madison Square Garden ice just behind him, David Quinn did not mince words about what lies ahead for the Rangers.

"It's big. We can't hide from how big this game is," the Rangers Head Coach said of his team's next game, on Monday night in Philadelphia. "We want to make the playoffs, and we talk about setting goals for ourselves of making the playoffs -- this is a big game, a four-point game in this situation.

"Any time you play a division opponent it's a big game, but now you're getting deeper in the season and these points and more valuable. It's a big game."

It will be the Rangers' final test before the League-wide hiatus for Christmas, and three days off the ice for the Blueshirts. The opponent, for the first time in 2019-20, is the Philadelphia Flyers, and one or two familiar faces that come with that matchup. And while the Rangers, after a flying start to their back-to-back set, may feel like they're riding a little wave of momentum into this game, so too do the Flyers: Alain Vigneault's club has won three games in a row, coming right on the heels of an 0-3 road trip.

Whatever foul mood was lingering from the Rangers' loss to the Maple Leafs on Friday night, they took it out on the Ducks on Sunday, scoring three times on 18 shots during a one-sided first period, then once in each of the final two frames of a 5-1 win. Mika Zibanejad (five games) and Artemi Panarin (seven) each extended their point streaks while Chris Kreider led the way with his first multi-goal game this season.

Afterward, Kreider had a prescription for the Rangers as they packed their bags for Philly: "Turn the page quick, and be ready to battle."

Quinn was hinting on Sunday that he could turn back to Henrik Lundqvist against the Flyers, to start both ends of this back-to-back. Lundqvist himself said his outing against Anaheim "wasn't a very intense game" for him, given that he saw only 19 shots. But he did set things on the right track by stopping a Nicolas Deslauriers breakaway less than six minutes in (and less than two minutes before Filip Chytil opened the scoring), then turned out Ondrej Kase twice on a clean break in the third to squash any thoughts of an Anaheim rally.

Lundqvist also was the beneficiary of a late scoring change: A secondary assist was added on Zibanejad's third-period shorthanded goal - giving Lundqvist the first shorthanded point of his career.

Kaapo Kakko was forced to sit out the game after blocking a shot on Friday night; Brett Howden wound up stepping onto the wing on Chytil's right and made the most of his 19 shifts and 11:16, which included 2:05 killing penalties and his fourth goal of the season, at even strength in the first. "In all three zones he did a lot of good things," Quinn said of Howden.

While Kakko remains questionable in Philly, the Rangers got a scare with about 13 minutes remaining in Sunday's game when Chytil, who earlier had sped through the Ducks for his ninth goal of the season, had his feet taken out and went thumping into the backboards; he stayed on the bench and returned for two late shifts and Quinn said afterward that "I think Fil's going to be fine." The Rangers did summon Phillip Di Giuseppe from Hartford on Sunday - the Wolf Pack played on Saturday and do not have another game scheduled until this Friday.

The Flyers played on Saturday, too, when James van Riemsdyk scored twice in Ottawa to help Philly overcome the Senators' three-goal second that turned the Flyers' 2-0 lead into a 3-2 deficit. The Flyers wound up winning in a shootout, 5-4, and the pair made it six goals in the last five games for the famously streaky van Riemsdyk, vaulting him into the team lead with 12.

Brian Elliott got the win against his former team in that one; Elliott and Carter Hart, who will start against the Rangers, have handled all the goaltending duties in the Flyers' 36 games this season, just a year after they set an NHL record by using eight different netminders.

Hart's save percentage is 85 points higher, and his GAA more than two goals lower, when he is playing at home, where he has won six straight starts.

Ivan Provorov is suffering from the flu that kept fellow blueliner Matt Niskanen out of Saturday's game in Ottawa, but Provorov, who has never missed a game in his four NHL seasons, is expected to try to play through it Monday night.

Travis Konecny leads the Flyers with 32 points. Claude Giroux, Philly's leading scorer in seven of the last nine seasons (and second on the team in the other two seasons), is fourth, with 24 points in 36 games for a Flyers team that currently occupies the No. 2 Wild Card spot in the East.

"We don't want to get too high," Howden said after the win over Anaheim. "We've still got a game (Monday) that's really important. These are important, important points for us."


PROJECTED LINEUPS

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

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

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

FLYERS
28 Giroux - 14 Couturier - 11 Konecny
25 J. van Riemsdyk - 13 Hayes - 62 Aube-Kubel
49 Farabee - 48 Frost - 93 Voracek 
10 Andreoff - 24 Vorobyev - 18 Pitlick

9 Provorov - 15 Niskanen
6 Sanheim - 61 Braun
53 Gostisbehere - 5 Myers

79 Hart
37 Elliott


NUMBERS GAME

Sunday's game was Henrik Lundqvist's 877th in the NHL, and his third-period assist on Mika Zibanejad's goal was the 27th of his career and his first shorthanded point. Lundqvist became the first Rangers goaltender with a shorthanded assist since Glenn Healy on Oct. 15, 1993, in Buffalo, on a goal by Mike Gartner.

Going back to March 2011, Lundqvist is 21-7-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .931 save percentage vs. Philly.

Phillip Di Giuseppe, called up from Hartford on Sunday afternoon, has nine goals and 17 points in 31 games for the Wolf Pack this season.

The Blueshirts have won six straight games within the Metropolitan Division, against five different opponents. The Flyers are 4-0-2 in their last six division games.

The Rangers are 3-2 in the second game of back-to-backs, though this is the first back-to-back with a day game followed by a night game.

Zibanejad is tied for the League lead in shorthanded goals (three) and points (five), and the Rangers' seven shorthanded goals matches the Hurricanes and Senators for the NHL lead. The Rangers scored seven shorthanded goals all of last season.

The Flyers are 20-11-5 through 36 games; last season they were 15-16-5 at the same point.

Carter Hart at home: 10-1-2, 1.53 GAA, .944 save percentage. Carter Hart on the road: 2-6-1, 3.59 GAA, .859 save percentage.

The Flyers are 12-2-4 on home ice.

Claude Giroux has seven points in his last 14 games and 24 this season, putting him on pace for 55 points after leading the Flyers with 85 last season and 102 the year before.

Joel Farabee is eligible to return from a three-game suspension on Monday. The 19-year-old BU product has 11 points this season, tied for third among rookie teenagers in the NHL. Kaapo Kakko is first, with 14 points.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chris Kreider, who scored twice on Sunday, has points in six of the last seven games. In the Rangers' last three pre-Christmas games, all on Dec. 23, Kreider has three goals and two assists, including a goal against the Flyers one year ago to the day.

At 22 years old, Travis Konecny is putting together a breakout season, leading the Flyers with 32 points (11-21--32) despite missing three games this month because of a concussion. Konecny has played 12 career games against the Rangers: He went scoreless in the first six, then had eight points in the next six.

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