Blackhawks-Rangers Preview

Henrik Lundqvist’s dazzling play is one reason the New York

Rangers are cruising atop the Eastern Conference.

The Chicago Blackhawks, meanwhile, are desperate to end their

longest road losing streak in over eight years.

Lundqvist figures to be back in net Thursday night when the

red-hot Rangers look to capitalize on the struggling Blackhawks in

an Original Six matchup at Madison Square Garden.

Lundqvist is 27-11-4 and leads the NHL with seven shutouts,

while his 1.77 goals-against average trails only St. Louis’ Brian

Elliott (1.63).

That’s a key reason the Rangers (37-13-5) are seven points ahead

of Boston for the conference lead and trail West-leading Detroit by

one point for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Lundqvist and the Rangers, however, have another trophy in

mind.

“I think it’s important that we keep challenging ourselves,”

Lundqvist said. “Yeah, we have a little gap, but we need to keep

working on our game. To be No. 1 at the end of the year is not our

goal. Our goal is to keep playing until June.”

Lundqvist’s play legitimizes that confidence. The three-time

All-Star has won eight of his last 10 games – compiling a 1.18 GAA

with four shutouts in that span – and had 42 saves in a 3-0 road

victory over the Bruins on Tuesday.

“He’s a competitor,” coach John Tortorella said of Lundqvist. “I

think we compete hard as a hockey club and it starts there. It just

oozes out of him. He just doesn’t give. I think that’s a very

important thing for your goalie to have and what we want our team

to be. That goes hand-in-hand.”

Lundqvist is 4-0-2 with a 1.80 GAA against Chicago (29-21-7),

winning each of the last three meetings at MSG – including a 3-2

victory Nov. 1, 2010, during which he had 33 saves.

Ryan Callahan is providing offensive punch with six goals in a

career high-tying four-game goal streak. The captain has 23 overall

and will set a career high with his next tally.

He’s failed to score in four games against the Blackhawks, but

had two assists in the most recent matchup.

Chicago is mired in a nine-game losing streak, falling to fourth

in the Central Division, and is tied for sixth in the West with Los

Angeles, two points ahead of eighth-place Phoenix.

That doesn’t mean New York is taking the Blackhawks lightly.

“They’re going through a little bit of a slump here, but you

look at their roster before this slump they were one of the most

dynamic team in this league,” defenseman Michael Del Zotto said.

“We have to be sharp to be on our game to be successful.”

The Blackhawks’ losing streak is their longest since an 0-8-2

skid Jan. 4-26, 2007, and they’ve dropped 11 in a row on the road

for the first time since a franchise-worst, 19-game skid Nov. 10,

2003-Jan. 29, 2004.

“This has to end soon, doesn’t it?” coach Joel Quenneville told

the team’s official website.

It didn’t end Tuesday, when Chicago fell 3-2 at Nashville

despite battling to tie the game twice.

“When you look at this stretch we have had here. We have found

different ways to not come out on top,” Quenneville said.

“(Tuesday), it looked like we were doing the things we wanted to do

and that we were moving in the right direction.”

Goaltending has been a problem throughout the skid, and Corey

Crawford is expected to make his first start against the Rangers.

He’s lost each of his last five games (0-4-1) with a 4.35 GAA,

while Ray Emery has a 3.80 GAA while losing six decisions in his

past eight road contests.

Jonathan Toews, the team leader with 27 goals, hasn’t found the

net in eight games, and doesn’t have a point in five. The captain

has two goals and two assists in his past three meetings with the

Rangers.