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GAME DAY: Rangers Ride Into Saddledome

Start Is Key in First Meeting with Flames; Lundqvist vs. Talbot in Goal

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at FLAMES, 9 p.m.
Scotiabank Saddledome
MSG Network, 98.7 FM

GAME DAY
CALGARY --
Sometimes it is just empty talk to say how important the start of a game will be. Thursday night doesn't feel like one of those times.

The Rangers and the Calgary Flames spent New Year's Eve less than 200 miles apart and in similar fashion two days ago, both teams staging furious comebacks that fell just short. Neither team is interested in trying it again when they come together at the Saddledome for the first time this season, with Henrik Lundqvist being opposed by his ex-backup Cam Talbot in the goals.

The Blueshirts' rally on Tuesday was the more dramatic of the two, with five goals in the final 20:26 in Edmonton in their bid to become the first team in NHL history to win a game they had trailed by six goals. Their blistering third period left them with plenty of positives to carry to Calgary, but it was an opening period they're determined not to repeat.

"Lesson learned about coming into a road rink not ready as a team," said Marc Staal, who scored the third goal of the Rangers' comeback. "Our job is to make sure that when the puck drops (on Thursday) our intensity is high, and our focus is there, so we don't get behind the 8-ball like that."

"It's still disappointing that we lost, and still very disappointing that we started the game the way we did. So we certainly don't want to lose sight of that," said David Quinn, adding: "We did a lot of good things, even when it was 6 to nothing -- we didn't waver, we didn't put our head between our legs and kiss the game goodbye, we just kept playing. And we almost pulled it off."

Leading that near-miracle was Artemi Panarin, the sixth-leading scorer in the National Hockey League who enters Thursday night's tilt with 10 points in his last three games. Panarin set up the first three goals of the Rangers' rally on Tuesday, then scored the fourth unassisted. Panarin's 55 points through 39 games have him on a 115-point pace for the season.

On Monday Panarin was selected to his first career All-Star Game; on Thursday he was named the NHL's Third Star of the Month for December.

"He's been doing it all year -- every time we need to play or a goal, he's just found a way to make plays," Staal said. "It's pretty special to watch. An extremely gifted player."

"He took over the third period and set the tone for our team in so many ways," said Quinn, "and our guys fed off it."

Panarin, though, is not alone among streaking Rangers. Chris Kreider, who will play his 500th NHL game on Thursday night, all as a Ranger, has points in three straight games (2-2--4), as does Tony DeAngelo, while Kreider's linemate Mika Zibanejad and Panarin's center, Ryan Strome, each has scored four times during their three-game goal streaks.

And Panarin was not alone in turning the Rangers around on Tuesday night, either -- and while it may feel strange to point to an important save that came in a 6-0 game, in retrospect that's exactly what Lundqvist provided on Tuesday night, when he came cold off the bench and pushed across to make a sparkling 2-on-1 glove save on Edmonton's Kailer Yamamoto late in the second period.

"Yeah, and we score after that too, which makes us feel a little better about things going into the third," said Staal. "It could have gone completely the other way if he doesn't come in and make a big save like that, and then we're able to go make a game of it for him."

The Rangers have taken points out of 10 of Lundqvist's last 15 starts, winning eight of those. He faced only six shots in his 24:18 in Edmonton but stopped all of them, in his first action since his 39-save victory over Carolina on Dec. 27.

While the Rangers were coming in waves in Edmonton on Tuesday night, the Flames were just a little bit to the south staging a comeback bid of their own, having spotted the Blackhawks a four-goal lead on home ice before cutting it to one. Like the Rangers, their rally was doused by an empty-netter.

Unlike the Rangers, though, the Flames' defeat signaled a wider trend. Calgary has trailed 3-0 at first intermission in back-to-back games on home ice, a big reason why they enter Thursday's game having lost five straight at the Saddledome (0-4-1).

After winning seven in a row, the Flames have just two wins in their last eight games (2-5-1).

David Rittich was in Calgary's nets for each of those last two, but on Thursday night it'll be Talbot. The ex-Ranger's GAA (2.73) and save percentage (.915) are at their best levels since 2016-17, but it has translated into a 3-7 record.


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
20 Kreider -- 93 Zibanejad -- 89 Buchnevich
21 Howden -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
42 Smith -- 14 McKegg -- 29 Fogarty

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

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

FLAMES
13 Gaudreau -- 23 Monahan -- 28 Lindholm
19 M. Tkachuk -- 11 Backlund -- 67 Frolik
17 Lucic -- 10 Ryan -- 93 Bennett
36 Rinaldo -- 16 Rieder -- 88 Mangiapane

5 Giordano -- 4 Andersson
55 Hanifin -- 24 Hamonic
58 Kylington -- 26 Stone

39 Talbot
33 Rittich


NUMBERS GAME

Chris Kreider will play his 500th game on Thursday night, all in a Blueshirt. Kreider has 145 goals and 296 points in his first 499 -- when he scored his 145th goal on Tuesday in Edmonton, he tied Rick Nash for most by any Ranger in the 2010s, and Nash and Lynn Patrick for 27th in Rangers history.

The Rangers have scored five goals in three straight games for the first time since October/November of 2016. The Blueshirts and Maple Leafs are the League's highest-scoring teams since Dec. 22 (21 goals apiece).

Tony DeAngelo has points in three straight games and ranks eighth in scoring among NHL defensemen (8-21--29). 

The Rangers are 10-3-1 in their last 14 games against Calgary.

The Flames, tied for second in the NHL last season scoring 3.52 goals per game, are 25th in the League this year, at 2.64.

Calgary has been outscored 22-9 during its five-game home-ice losing streak.

Cam Talbot has stopped 125 of 132 shots (.947) over his last four appearances. Talbot is 1-4/2.84/.905 in his career against the team that signed him as a free agent out of the University of Alabama-Huntsville in 2010.

Calgary has allowed the game's first goal in seven of Talbot's 10 starts, and in 26 of their 42 games this season.

Calgary's penalty kill ranks fourth in the League at 83.8 percent.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Adam Fox will play his first game against the team that drafted him 66th overall in 2016. The blueliner's two assists on Tuesday in Edmonton gave him his third career multi-point game. Fox has 19 points, third among all rookie defensemen and seventh among all rookies.

Matthew Tkachuk had a career-high five points -- two goals, three assists -- in the Rangers' last visit to the Saddledome, back on March 15. Overall Tkachuk has 3-6--9 over his last six games, and leads the Flames with 36 points this season.

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