Maple Leafs-Rangers Preview
The previous meeting between the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs marked the beginning of the former's rise and the middle of the latter's plummet.
While the Rangers continue to surge, the Maple Leafs have posted a small turnaround.
With red-hot New York trying to extend its longest point streak in eight years, the suddenly streaking Maple Leafs will try to match their best over the last three seasons Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers (13-2-2) have won eight straight and are 10-0-2 in their last 12, marking the ninth-longest point streak in franchise history and longest since a 13-game run in 2007-08. The 1939-40 team's 19-game run stands as the club's best.
They have set a team record with 13 wins in the first 17 games, and their win streak is tied for their third longest behind a pair of 10-game surges in 1939-40 and 1972-73.
The second win of New York's current spurt was a 3-1 victory over Toronto on Oct. 30 that was the fourth on the team's seven-game home streak. Mats Zuccarello logged his first career hat trick to double his goal total over his last three against the Maple Leafs.
Zuccarello has four goals and five assists in his last seven overall, but he and the Rangers' offense were quieted Saturday at Ottawa. New York, however, still found its way to a 2-1 shootout win thanks to Chris Kreider's first-period goal and shootout tallies from Zuccarello and Dan Boyle. Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves to pick up his 10th win.
"That's what matters, the W, at the end of the day," Boyle told the team's official website. "You never know if that extra point down the road is going to be a factor or not, so you don't want to leave points out there.
"Both teams played hard, but I'm glad we got the extra (point)."
The most impressive aspect of the winning streak might be the balance on each end of the ice. The Rangers' offense has averaged 3.5 goals in the eight games, while the defense has surrendered 1.25 per game.
Lundqvist's last six wins have come during the streak, but his 3.22 goals-against average in his last nine starts versus Toronto is likely what led to coach Alain Vigneault's decision to start Antti Raanta.
Raanta is 3-0 on the season with a 0.67 GAA and .976 save percentage and has seen varying results in two career outings against the Maple Leafs, allowing five goals on 25 shots in 2013 before shutting them out on 31 shots last season.
Toronto (5-8-4), though, may offer the Rangers a different look than it did two weeks ago after stringing together three wins following a 2-8-4 start.
"I think if I'm not mistaken we've got points in six of seven," coach Mike Babcock said after the Leafs beat Vancouver 4-2 on Saturday.
Specifically, Toronto has earned 10 points over those seven games after earning just four in its first 10. The Maple Leafs were streaking in the other direction when they visited MSG late last month riding a four-game losing streak.
James Reimer matched a season high with 43 saves against the Canucks in his seventh straight start, though he was aided by two disallowed goals.
Reimer and backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier have each struggled in their careers against the Rangers, with Reimer posting a 3.46 GAA in six starts and Bernier a 3.00 in seven. It's unclear who will get the nod in this contest.