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Rangers Take on Blue Jackets in Division Showdown

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

While there are no streaks on the line, Saturday's matchup with the Blue Jackets in Columbus still has plenty of meaning for the New York Rangers.

The Blueshirts are coming off a spirited 5-2 victory Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers that saw Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner each score two goals and Henrik Lundqvist make 30 saves to quickly erase the bad taste left by Tuesday's performance against the Buffalo Sabres.

Lundqvist is expected to get the start in goal for the Rangers, who will follow Saturday's game with a four-day 'bye' week. He's had success against the Blue Jackets over the course of his career with a 9-4-1 record in 14 games, including a 6-1-0 line with a 1.99 GAA and a .936 SV% in his last seven appearances.

"I think every time we play in that building them come hard," Lundqvist said of Columbus on Friday. "They play with a lot of energy and they work hard. You mix in some skill with that, they're a really tough team to beat. Obviously their record shows it. They're the best team in the League. It's a great challenge for us to go there and try to win there before we go on a little break."

Forward Derek Stepan has feasted on the Blue Jackets since the team's move to the Metropolitan Division for the 2013-14 campaign. The center has a point in eight of his last nine games against Columbus dating back to March 21, 2014, and 15 points in 14 games for his career.

While Columbus' 16-game winning streak was snapped Thursday in a 5-0 loss to Washington -just one short of tying the NHL record - there's still a lot on the line between these two teams who are separated by just three points in the Metropolitan Division standings.

Columbus is an NHL-best 27-6-4 on the season, good enough for 58 points in 47 games, and possesses one of the top records at home at 15-3-1. 

"They're feeling really good about their game I'm sure, even though they're coming off a recent loss, that winning streak is something that gives a team confidence," Ryan McDonagh said. "I'm sure they're going try and respond back especially at home there to play a good game. We've got to continue to have that right mindset of competing and having good execution with and without the puck."

Saturday marks the second of five meetings between the two squads, and the second of three in Columbus. The teams last met Nov. 18 in a 4-2 Blue Jackets win.

Columbus enters Saturday's meeting with the third-most goals in the NHL at 126 - 15 behind the Rangers - and the best goal differential at plus-47.

Cam Atkinson is leading the Blue Jackets offensively with 18 goals and 38 points in 37 games. Youngster Alexander Wennberg has 34 points in 37 contests, while Brandon Saad has 33 points, including 14 goals.

Zach Werenski has been one of the best rookie defensemen in the NHL this season. The 19-year-old has six goals and 19 assists for 25 points in 37 games this season.

What has made Columbus so dangerous this season is its combination of a high-powered offense with a stingy defense. They've allowed just 79 goals this season, the fewest in the NHL. 

Sergei Bobrovsky has returned to the goaltender he was during his Vezina Trophy-winning season in 2013. He is 25-6-2 with a 2.03 GAA and a .930 SV% with three shutouts this season.

Two of the NHL's best power plays will be on display as Columbus enters with the top unit at an astounding 27 percent, while the Rangers are fourth at 22.8 percent. The Rangers have the edge with the ninth-ranked penalty kill unit; the Blue Jackets come in 13th at 82.2 percent.

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