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McDonagh back as the Rangers take on Chicago; Boyle and Staal still questionable

Bobby Bevilacqua

Rangers vs Blackhawks 10-7

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Following a physical and exciting game against the Flyers, the Rangers (32-18-6) will face a huge test tonight when they close out their three game homestand against the Chicago Blackhawks (37-18-5), one of the best teams in the NHL.

In the last game for the Rangers, the fists were flying early on as the Rangers looked to stand up for their downed captain. After that, Derick Brassard tied his career high of 19 goals, and Derek Stepan found the back of the net twice, including scoring his 100th career NHL goal. Henrik Lundqvist was superb when he had to be, and came within 10 seconds of a shutout.

The Rangers have played some pretty good teams in the past few weeks, but this is the first time they’ll be going up against one of the league’s elite teams since they played the Capitals on January 17th. After a slow start, Chicago has surged into second place in the Central Division, and third in the NHL with 79 points.

Ryan McDonagh skated in a contact jersey during today’s morning skate, and told reporters that he feels fine and ready to play. The Rangers also tweeted out that he will return to the lineup, so expect him to be back tonight.

However, Vigneault provided no definite decision on what the defense would look like. Dan Boyle also said he felt fine today, following his absence from yesterday’s practice with the flu. Marc Staal’s wife is giving birth to their second child, so it’s unsure what his status for the game is. If Boyle plays, there won’t be a call-up. But if both Boyle and Staal are out, some reinforcements will need to come from Hartford. The lineup will be announced around 5 or 6 PM.

The Rangers enter tonight’s game with a 10 game point streak (8-0-2) at MSG on the line. They’ve earned a point in 12 of their last 13 home games (10-1-2) and have a 20-4-2 record in the last 26 home games.

This is the second and final game between the Rangers and Blackhawks this season, and the first since the season opener on October 7th, which New York won 3-2. Oscar Lindberg scored the first goal for the Rangers, with Kevin Klein and Derek Stepan providing the other two goals. Lundqvist made 32 saves in the win.

In that game, Chicago rookie Artemi Panarin scored his first career NHL goal, assisted by Patrick Kane. Little did the team know that those two would combine to create one of the best lines in the entire league. Panarin has come over from Russia and the KHL and has taken the league by storm, posting 54 points (19-35-54) in 60 games. Sure, having the league’s leading scorer by your side helps, but he’s a fantastic player in his own right, and one that the Rangers need to keep an eye out for.

His counterpart, Patrick Kane, is having one of the best seasons by an NHL player in about a decade. Kane leads the league in points (82), and is second in both goals (34) and assists (48), putting him on pace for 112 points. He’s riding a three game point streak, with six points (2-4-6) in that span. He will be very tough to stop.

It’s pretty hard to believe that a two time Stanley Cup winning goaltender is underrated, but Corey Crawford is just that. Not many people appreciate all that he’s done for the Blackhawks, but he’s starting to show them why he deserves more respect this season. He’s started 48 games this year, posting a 31-14-3 record with seven shutouts. He also has a very strong 2.19 GAA and a .930 save percentage.

Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net for the Rangers tonight following a strong game against the Flyers, one that saw him lose his shutout bid with 9.7 seconds left. He realistically should have three straight shutouts, also getting a bit unlucky and giving up a late goal against the Devils.

Nevertheless, Hank has been fantastic lately. He’s won five straight starts, allowing two goals or less in all of those games. He was selected as the second star of the week for last week after going 3-0-0 with a .67 GAA, a .976 save percentage and a shutout in three games. Lundqvist has also allowed two goals or fewer in 12 of his last 15 games, going 11-3-1 with a 1.84 GAA and a .933 save percentage in that span. The Rangers will need him again tonight.

Keith Yandle played well again in the win over the Flyers, picking up an assist to extend his point streak to three games and give him 31 points (4-27-31) this season. With McDonagh returning to the lineup, the pairings may be shifted. But it’s evident that Yandle has earned his 22 minutes of ice time tonight, and Vigneault needs to keep playing him like that even when all of the defense is healthy. We’ll see what his role is tonight, but hopefully it’s a similar one.

Viktor Stalberg has been one of my favorite offseason acquisitions and an excellent depth player for the Rangers. When he really wants to step his game up, he’s extremely effective, and a great forechecker. His speed and size can catch guys off guard and he should have more than eight goals, getting robbed by goalies or goal posts lately. However, he still has eight goals and 15 points this season, and he may be a bit more motivated playing against his former team, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2013.

The Rangers and the Blackhawks will face off at Madison Square Garden at 8 PM. The game will be broadcasted on NBCSN.

POTENTIAL LINEUPS (Not Confirmed)

JT Miller-Derick Brassard-Jesper Fast

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Oscar Lindberg-Kevin Hayes-Viktor Stalberg

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Daniel Paille

Ryan McDonagh-Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle-Dan Girardi

Dan Boyle-Dylan McIlrath

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on February 17, 2016, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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