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GAME DAY: Rangers Roll Into Minny

Georgiev in Goal, Shesterkin Day-to-Day as Blueshirts Open Back-to-Back vs. Wild

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at WILD, 8 p.m.
Xcel Energy Center
MSG Network, 98.7 FM

GAME DAY
ST. PAUL --
Speaking about his team, Ryan Lindgren said "It seems like we're building in the right direction right now and we just keep getting better and better." The same might be said about Ryan Lindgren himself.

Two days after his 22nd birthday, Lindgren will play on Minnesota ice for the first time as an NHL player, and will try to help the Rangers make it six wins out of eight games -- and four straight on the road -- when they take on the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, with Alexandar Georgiev in goal as Igor Shesterkin nurses a minor ankle injury.

Lindgren, the product of nearby Burnsville and the University of Minnesota, will have a sizeable contingent of family and friends in the stands on Thursday, and if a pattern holds they could be seeing plenty of him: Lindgren has played 50 games in the NHL and topped 21 minutes twice -- both of those have come in the last week.

"It's really cool -- I used to come to games all the time growing up here," Lindgren, whose dad had season tickets for the Wild, said after the Rangers' morning skate on Thursday. "A lot of time in this building -- state tournaments, watching my brothers play here, and I played here in college, too. So I've been in this building a lot and it's pretty cool to play my first (NHL) game here."

Quinn deployed Lindgren for 21:07 on Tuesday night in Winnipeg, when the Rangers began this road trip in impressive fashion. They built up a four-goal lead and saw it through behind Shesterkin's 43 saves in what Lindgren called "a great team win"; Lindgren's night included one ferocious battle in front of the Rangers' net with Patrik Laine, which earned each player a minor penalty.

"Listen, you can't back down from anybody, in particular the top players on the opposition, and he's never, ever backed down from anybody regardless of their size or their stature," Quinn aid of his rookie blueliner. "That's what you need. You need someone who's going to play in-your-face hockey, and he's done that."

Shesterkin made it six wins in his first seven NHL starts that night, but a collision in his crease with the Jets' Andrew Copp caused a minor ankle issue that leaves the rookie goaltender day-to-day. Georgiev will step in against the Wild, who have won four of their last five games and, like the Rangers, stand on 60 points entering Thursday's game, which opens a back-to-back for the Blueshirts -- they conclude their road trip in Columbus on Friday night.

Of the trip opener in Winnipeg, Quinn said: "I just loved our intentions. I thought we did a really good job defending, protecting the middle of the rink, and then we managed the puck well. There was just a lot of good things."

"Everyone stepped up in different ways," Lindgren said. "We're going to need that again tonight."

They could always use more of what Chris Kreider has been doing: The winger has scored a goal in nine of the last 13 games the Blueshirts have played. His pair on Tuesday night got the Rangers off and running on this road trip and upped his total to 22 this season -- six goals shy of both Artemi Panarin for the team lead, and of his own career best, set in 2016-17 and matched last season.

The hot hand in Minnesota, meanwhile, is Kevin Fiala, who extended his point streak to five games with a goal and two assists in the Wild's 4-0 takedown of Vegas on Tuesday night in the second of their four-game homestand. Fiala has five goals and five assists during his point streak.

"Right now he's in a good place," Wild Coach Bruce Boudreau said, "and I don't want to bug him." 

Fiala assisted on a Zach Parise goal when these teams met on Nov. 25 at Madison Square Garden, a game Tony DeAngelo won for the Rangers in overtime. The Wild walked out of the Garden that night with a 9-11-4 record; the next night in Newark they began a five-game winning streak, and since their loss to the Rangers have gone 18-12-2 to climb back into playoff contention in the Western Conference. 

Their latest win, though, came right after GM Bill Guerin traded winger Jason Zucker to the Penguins after nine years in Minnesota, getting Alex Galchenyuk among the package in return. Galchenyuk made his Wild debut on Tuesday.

"They're very structured, they've got big strong players and their D corps is very good -- they're, heavy on pucks," Quinn said of the Wild. "They've been a good team for a while now, and it's going to be a challenge, like every night is in this league."


PROJECTED LINEUPS

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

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

40 Georgiev
30 Lundqvist

WILD
11 Parise -- 12 E. Staal -- 22 Fiala
27 Galchenyuk -- 19 Kunin -- 36 Zuccarello
17 M. Foligno -- 14 Eriksson Ek -- 18 Greenway
6 Donato -- 9 Koivu -- 38 Hartman

20 Suter -- 46 Spurgeon
25 Brodin -- 24 Dumba
21 Soucy -- 29 Pateryn

32 Stalock
40 Dubnyk


NUMBERS GAME

Wednesday is Kaapo Kakko's 19th birthday. He had 19 points as an 18-year-old, most in Rangers history.

Since Jan. 7, only three players have scored more than Chris Kreider's 10 goals: Alex Ovechkin (16), Nikita Kucherov (13) and Auston Matthews (11).

Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich have combined for 29 points over the last eight games.

Over the past month, the Rangers have the League's top power play at 45.8 percent (11-for-24); Minnesota is second, at 44.1 percent (15-for-34). The Wild scored three times on power plays in their 4-0 win over Vegas on Tuesday.

The Rangers have allowed three goals during their three-game road winning streak.

Since returning from the All-Star break on Jan. 31, the Rangers lead the League in blocked shots, with 114. Brady Skjei's 15 leads the Rangers in that span.

The Rangers are 15-12 against Minnesota since the Wild entered the League in 2000. Seven different goaltenders have earned the Rangers' 15 wins, led by Henrik Lundqvist's seven. Alexandar Georgiev can become the eighth.

Alex Stalock, who will start in Minnesota's nets on Thursday night, picked up his third shutout of the season on Tuesday. Since joining the Wild Stalock is 20-7-6 on home ice.

Kevin Fiala has eight points (3-5--8) in seven career games against the Rangers.

Mats Zuccarello has 14-16--30 in 52 games in his first season with the Wild.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mika Zibanejad has multiple points in eight of the last 14 games, including his goal and assist on Tuesday night in Winnipeg. Among players with at least 10 games this season, Zibanejad is sixth in the NHL in goals per game (.55).

Zach Parise has seven goals and 10 points over the last 11 games. Last Friday Parise became the eighth Minnesota-born player to skate in 1,000 NHL games; 55 of them have come against the Rangers, and Parise has 43 points in those. 

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