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GAME DAY: Rangers Roll Into the Rockies

Blueshirts Can Move Within One Point of Playoff Spot; MacKinnon Out, Makar Back for Avs

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at AVALANCHE, 10 p.m.
Pepsi Center
MSG+, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
DENVER --
With his 40th goal in his 56th game on Tuesday night, Mika Zibanejad became the fastest player in the history of the Rangers to reach the 40-goal plateau. In a related story: There are still 13 games remaining on the Rangers' schedule.

"He's not finished," David Quinn said.

Zibanejad will look to continue his breakneck scoring pace, and the Rangers will be out to extend their path of destruction on the road, when they visit an injury-ravaged Colorado Avalanche team that will be without Nathan MacKinnon against the Blueshirts -- and for the next week or two -- but will have rookie Cale Makar return from injury Wednesday night.

While the Avs will have to make do without their star center, Quinn and the Rangers understand how lucky they are to have theirs.

"It's so much fun to watch a player grow, and he continues to grow, day in and day out," the Head Coach of the Rangers said after Zibanejad became a 40-goal scorer for the first time on Tuesday night. "We've talked about him a lot an awful lot, and I actually said to him after his five-goal game (last Thursday against Washington), the next day I said 'I'm really tired of talking about you.' But if he keeps scoring, I'll talk about him 'til I'm blue in the face.

"We're so fortunate to have Bread and him, not only being the players they are but the people they are. It's so important for your organization when you've got two superstars like that, that they're great people. And that's what they are. I mean, these are guys that if they were getting no points you'd want to be around them, and it means so much to our organization."

Thing is, though, as long as Panarin and Zibanejad are the first-class people that they are, whether or not they rack up the points, they might as well rack up the points. Each made the scoresheet yet again on Thursday, Zibanejad with a goal and an assist to match his career high from a season ago with 74 points, and to reach 40 goals in one fewer game than Jean Ratelle did it in 1971-72. And Panarin's terrific pass for Adam Fox 19 seconds into the game was point No. 94 on the season -- fourth-most in the NHL, with MacKinnon trailing him by one point in fifth.

MacKinnon had played in all 69 of Colorado's games so far this season, and in the last 176 in a row, but he left Monday's game in Los Angeles during the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return. The Avs were off on Tuesday, but after Wednesday's morning skate Coach Jared Bednar revealed he would miss the next 1-2 weeks.

The Rangers' win in Dallas on Tuesday night, meanwhile, was their 10th victory in their last 11 road games spanning nearly two months, since Jan. 16. They picked up ground on a couple of teams they're chasing in the playoff race, though on Wednesday night there won't be much scoreboard watching to do: Only two Eastern Conference teams, the Rangers and the out-of-it Senators, are in action Wednesday -- and so the Rangers know they have a chance to finish the night even in points with the Islanders, and within one point of both Carolina and Columbus for the two Eastern Conference's two Wild Card spots.

Apart from Zibanejad's goal, the other three all came from rookies, with Adam Fox opening the scoring 19 seconds into the game and Kaapo Kakko scoring twice in the second period. It was the second two-goal game of Kakko's NHL career and the first on the road, and it put the teenager into double digits in goals for his rookie campaign.

The Rangers, though, are likely to be without Filip Chytil on Wednesday -- the 20-year-old left Tuesday's game after the first period with a lower-body injury. Wednesday would be the first game Chytil would miss since his call-up to the NHL on Oct. 28; he has played in all 59 games since, with 14 goals and 23 points, both career highs in 16 fewer games than last season.

On Wednesday morning, the Rangers called up Steven Fogarty from Hartford on an emergency basis.

Igor Shesterkin made 31 saves on Tuesday night for his 10th win in 12 NHL starts, the first of which came against the Avalanche back on Jan. 7 at Madison Square Garden -- the fourth NHL shot Shesterkin faced was a MacKinnon breakaway. Still, Quinn indicated on Monday and again late on Tuesday that he was disinclined to start Shesterkin in both ends of a back-to-back, just four days after he made his return from a rib injury suffered in a Feb. 23 car accident. 

MacKinnon's name joins an injured list for Colorado that looks on paper like it could make a run at the playoffs by itself. The Avs are without forwards Mikko Rantanen (shoulder), Nazem Kadri (leg), Andre Burakovsky (lower body) and Matt Calvert (lower body), as well as goalie Philipp Grubauer (lower body).

That list (with MacKinnon) includes four of Colorado's top-six scorers -- Makar, whose 47 points are second among rookie defensemen and a distant second on his team to MacKinnon's 93, had missed the past five games with an upper-body injury. And yet the Avs remain very much in the mix to earn the top seed in the Western Conference, trailing St. Louis by just two points entering play on Wednesday.

Colorado's loss on Monday in L.A. was its third in four games, but that dip came after a season-long seven-game winning streak -- the last six of which were one-goal wins, tying an NHL record. Tuesday's match begins their four-game homestand in Denver, where the Avs are 17-9-6.

Pavel Francouz will start for the 12th time in the Avalanche's last 13 games.


NUMBERS GAME

With 78 points, the Rangers have matched last season's point total in 69 games this season. They have 37 wins in 2019-20, after 32 last year.

Colorado is fourth in the NHL with 233 goals (3.38 per game); the Rangers are fifth with 231 goals (3.35 per).

The Rangers have outscored opponents 41-24 during their 10-1 stretch on the road.

Adam Fox's goal and assist on Tuesday night made him just the fifth blueliner in Rangers history to post 40 points in his rookie season (Leetch, Ruotsalainen, Greschner, McEwen). 

Pavel Buchnevich, with an assist on Tuesday night, has eight points (seven assists) during his six-game point streak.

Three of Kaapo Kakko's 10 career goals are game-winners, including his first goal on Tuesday against the Stars.

Tony DeAngelo, fourth in the NHL in blue-line scoring, will play his 200th NHL game. He has 24-81--105 in the first 199.

Of Colorado's seven straight wins from Feb. 19 to March 2, the last six were one-goal wins, tying the NHL record and become the fifth team to win six straight games by one.

Cale Makar is second among NHL rookie blueliners with 47 points; Fox is third with 40. Fox leads them all at plus-22.

The Avalanche have had 12 games get to overtime but only two of those reach a shootout. They are 3-7 in OTs, 1-1 in shootouts.

Colorado went 12 straight games without allowing a power-play goal, until San Jose went 2-for-4 on Sunday in a game the Avs still won, 4-3. Over the last 13 games, the Avs are 31-for-33 on penalty kils (93.9 percent).

The Rangers' power play is 6-for-20 (30 percent) in its last five games.

Vlad Namestnikov, who started the season with the Rangers, then went to Ottawa before being picked up at the deadline by Colorado, has three goals and five points in eight games with the Avs.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

The NHL's First Star of last week: Mika Zibanejad has 10 goals during his five-game goal streak, and has scored in 17 of the Rangers' last 21 games. His 28 goals since Christmas lead the NHL; Alex Ovechkin is next with 25.

The NHL's Second Star of last week: Gabriel Landeskog had his eight-game point streak broken up on Monday in L.A., but had eight points in the three games before that. The Avs captain has scored seven times in 14 games against the Rangers.

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