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Rangers Head to Boston to Face Bruins

First Game for Defenseman Brendan Smith

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

The Rangers look to snap out of a two-game losing streak Thursday night in Boston against the Bruins.

The Blueshirts enter Thursday's matchup with a slew of injuries following Tuesday's 4-1 loss to Washington at The Garden. While Mika Zibanejad (hand) and Chris Kreider (maintenance day Wednesday) are expected to play, there are other question marks up front.

Jesper Fast will miss two-to-three weeks with an upper-body injury he suffered against the Capitals, while Michael Grabner is "up in the air" for Thursday, according to coach Alain Vigneault, after he was injured Wednesday during practice.

If Grabner cannot play, the Rangers would recall a player from Hartford (AHL).

Defenseman Kevin Klein did not skate Wednesday as he continues to deal with back spasms. Vigneault said he hopes the blueliner can skate Thursday in Boston. He will miss his fifth consecutive game.

The defense will see some help in the form of the newly acquired Brendan Smith, who skated for the first time as a Ranger Wednesday. The 28-year-old, who was acquired on Tuesday from Detroit, skated on the right side with Ryan McDonagh Wednesday, and Vigneault said he was more than likely to go with that pair to star against the Bruins.

Marc Staal will play with his regular partner Nick Holden, while the successful Brady Skjei - Adam Clendening tandem remains intact.

Vigneault did not reveal his goaltender following Wednesday's practice, but Henrik Lundqvist is expected to get the start for the Rangers. Lundqvist is 24-12-2 with six shutouts against the Bruins in his career, and has wins in each of his last three games against the Bruins, stopping 98 of 103 shots he's faced.

Thursday is the third and final meeting between these Original Six clubs, with the Rangers picking up wins in both of the previous contests, including a 5-2 win back on Nov. 5 in Boston. The Rangers have outscored the Bruins 10-4 in the season series, while Derek Stepan leads all skaters with four assists and five points. Rookie and Boston-native Jimmy Vesey has three points in the two games.

The Bruins enter Thursday's meeting with the Rangers red-hot. They're 7-1 since making a coaching change back on Feb. 7 and are coming off a 4-1 victory Tuesday night over the Arizona Coyotes. 

That surge has propelled the Bruins into a tie in points with the Ottawa Senators for second in the Atlantic Division. 

Brad Marchand is having a career-year offensively, having set new highs in assists (38) and points (66) through 63 games for the Bruins this season, while 20-year-old David Pastrnak has doubled his point production from his sophomore campaign with 52 points, including 26 goals.

The Bruins added defenseman Drew Stafford in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets Wednesday to help bolster the team's defense that currently ranks fifth in the Eastern Conference in goals against with 166.

Tuukka Rask has turned in a strong season in goal for the Bruins. He's 30-14-4 with a 2.27 GAA and a .913 SV% with six shutouts this season. He lost just two games in the month of February.

Boston holds the edge over the Rangers on the power play, with the Bruins coming in at 20 percent efficiency, while the Rangers are 18.5 percent. The Bruins are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for the top penalty kill at 85.7 percent.

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