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Preview: Rangers Battle Blue Jackets in Home Finale

by Michael Obernauer

BLUE JACKETS at RANGERS, 7 p.m.
MSG+, 1050 AM

The Rangers have one more home game in 2018-19, one more chance to play in front of the Garden fans and say thank you to the faithful, one Friday night on Broadway to give their fans the Blueshirts off their Backs.

That annual salute to RangersTown will take place after the conclusion of Friday night's game - but not before the Blueshirts take on Columbus in a game with major playoff implications for John Tortorella's Blue Jackets. And not before Alexandar Georgiev picks up where he left off, which is to say red-hot in the Ranger nets.

Georgiev enters this one having won his last two starts in which he allowed a total of two goals. Both of them came a week ago, in the first period last Friday at the Garden against St. Louis; the rookie goaltender has turned away each of the last 67 shots that have come his way. He carries a shutout streak of 104:58 into Friday night's match.

David Quinn was recalling on Thursday the first impressions his rookie goaltender made on him at last summer's Rangers Development Camp, but added: "Then when you get to know him a little bit more, you're even more optimistic about what the future holds. I'm not surprised that he's had the success he's had."

Friday's start would be Georgiev's 29th of his rookie season. He is 7-3-2 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .929 save percentage at the Garden in 2018-19.

Because of Montreal's loss in Washington on Thursday night, the Blue Jackets have an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot - likely the No. 2 Wild Card in the East - by winning one of their final two games, and can finish the job at the Garden on Friday night.

Following Friday's game, the Rangers travel to Pittsburgh for Saturday's season finale against the Penguins, who wrapped up a playoff spot with Thursday's victory over Detroit, though seeding and home-ice implications remain in that one.

"We're definitely excited for this challenge. It'd be good to play spoiler for those teams and we definitely will put our best foot forward," said Brady Skjei. "Easy to get up for these two games; we're going to come out hard. Guys are fighting for lasting impressions on coaching and management and for next year's training camp. So everyone in this locker room should put their best foot forward and have a good effort."

"I mean, you want to win hockey games," added Quinn. "This (Columbus) team is going to come in (Friday) night and they're playing for their playoff lives. They're deep, they're talented, they play hard. It's going to be a challenge for sure.

"I just think back to how much fun - the result wasn't fun, but the way that New Jersey game (on Monday) evolved. That was a great environment to play in and it was a great game to be a part of, and it was intense, and that's what we need tomorrow night to be from our end of it. We need to bring an intensity to our game, we need to bring a playoff mindset to our game. It's one of our last two games, and I've said this: How this season ends, you're going to carry through the summer. So let's take advantage of our opportunity tomorrow night."

One rookie may not get the opportunity: Filip Chytil, considered day-to-day after leaving Monday's game in Newark just before the end with an upper-body injury, missed Wednesday's game against Ottawa and was not on the ice with his teammates at Thursday's practice.

But the Rangers were joined on the Westchester ice by another rookie, Ryan Lindgren, the 21-year-old defenseman called up from Hartford on Thursday to finish out the season with the Rangers and get his second look this year with the big club. Lindgren - who was acquired along with two other players and two draft picks last February from Boston - played three games as a Ranger earlier this year, making his NHL debut on Jan. 15 against Carolina.

The former Minnesota Golden Gopher was paired during practice with former Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog Neal Pionk.

"Two games left, so for myself a good opportunity to play well and show what I got. It's obviously very exciting and should be a fun two games," Lindgren said on Thursday. "Those first three games, obviously a lot of nerves playing for the first time. This second time up, I think I'll still be nervous a little bit but I don't think it'll be the same point it was before. I think it'll be maybe an easier transition the second time up for sure."

"I liked his compete, I liked how physical he was," Quinn said of Lindgren's three-game January call-up. "The thing we've talked about was his gap control, a little bit of his puck skills. But overall he was a guy that you know you're going to get an honest effort out of him every single night."

The Blue Jackets are not far removed from a five-game winning streak in which they beat five opponents by a total score of 24-4. They won three of those games on the road, and three of them by shutout, with Sergei Bobrovsky allowing four goals in the five games.

But after wins in back-to-back nights in Nashville and Buffalo, they returned to the Ohio capital on Tuesday night to get blown out on home ice, a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. Oliver Bjorkstrand got Columbus on the board in that game to extend his goals streak to six games, the league's longest active streak. But the goal came with just over 14 minutes left in the game and made the score 5-1.

NUMBERS GAME

Neal Pionk is expected to play in his 100th NHL game.

Alexandar Georgiev's .929 save percentage on home ice is fourth-highest among any goaltender who has played at least 10 home games, and tops among NHL rookies.

At Madison Square Garden this season, the Rangers have scored 114 goals, including 22 on power plays, and allowed 114 goals, including 22 on power plays.

The Rangers are 8-3-1 in their last 12 regular-season Garden finales.

Oliver Bjorkstrand has seven goals during his six-game goal streak, and eight goals in eight games since March 19, most in the league in that span. Ryan Strome is tied for ninth in that span with five goals.

During Columbus' recent five-game winning streak, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 134 of 138 shots (.971) for a 0.80 goals-against average, with three shutouts in the five games. Bobrovsky has won 36 games this season, one-quarter of them by shutout, and his nine shutouts lead the NHL.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chris Kreider has scored four times in the Rangers' three games against Columbus this season - only Tampa Bay's Brayden Point (six) has scored more against the Blue Jackets.

Artemi Panarin leads Columbus with 84 points (27-57--84), including eight in the last six games. Panarin has two career hat tricks - both have come at Madison Square Garden.

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