Rangers-Red Wings Preview
Three days off have done the banged-up New York Rangers good, and the ultimate reward comes Saturday in the form of Henrik Lundqvist's return to the net - along with the possible return of Rick Nash.
The Detroit Red Wings also got well by snapping a three-game losing streak their last time out, and they'll be looking to continue their home dominance in this series.
New York (39-22-6) is opening a back-to-back after its break, with a home matchup against Pittsburgh on tap Sunday. The Rangers rebounded from a home loss to the archrival Islanders by winning 4-2 at Buffalo on Tuesday in a somewhat sloppy effort.
New York built a 3-0 lead and outshot the Sabres 16-9 in the second period, but Buffalo cut the deficit to one after 40 minutes and posted a 19-4 shot advantage in the third.
'' ... We did find a way to win,'' said coach Alain Vigneault, whose team is 12-4-1 in the past 17.
The Rangers have done that twice in three games without star goaltender Lundqvist, with backup Antti Raanta playing well in the victories. However, Lundqvist, out with neck spasms suffered in a loss to the Penguins on March 3, will start against Detroit (33-23-11).
"I just need to go out there and play, relax, trust my instincts," Lundqvist told the team's official website. "When you are used to playing a lot, then don't play for a week, of course you're going to feel it; but it's really a mindset, just being comfortable and trusting yourself."
He's certainly been comfortable against the Red Wings, winning five straight matchups and posting shutouts in three of those while allowing one goal in one of the others.
All of those victories, however, came at Madison Square Garden, while the Red Wings have dominated the Rangers at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit has gone 12-1-1 in the past 14 such meetings, winning 2-1 in overtime in the latest one March 4, 2015.
New York did take the teams' most recent matchup, 1-0 in OT on Feb. 21 on Kevin Klein's goal to avoid a third straight overall loss in the series.
Vigneault said Nash has a "very good chance" to return Saturday from the leg injury that's kept him out the last 20 games. Defenseman Marc Staal (back spasms) should return, though center Derick Brassard (flu) is questionable.
Justin Abdelkader scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lift Detroit to a 3-2 victory over Winnipeg on Thursday, ending the club's skid that was all in regulation. The Red Wings rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit.
''That's a huge game for us, a huge win,'' Abdelkader said. ''Obviously we know what's at stake, so those are two big points.
'' ... To win in regulation and to get this win, especially after being down 2-0 shows the character in this room, and we have a lot of fight in here.''
Dylan Larkin, 19, scored his 20th goal, Jonathan Ericsson also scored and Petr Mrazek stopped 23 shots. Mrazek is likely to make his first career start against the Rangers.
While the Rangers are battling the Islanders for the second playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, the Red Wings' situation is more precarious. Detroit is in wild-card position but trying to hold off Philadelphia and Carolina, which are pursuing it and Pittsburgh for the two wild-card berths.
" ... We've been here before," center Henrik Zetterberg said. "Last four years, five years, we've been in this and we know how to do it. Just gotta start playing playoff hockey a little earlier and we're doing that right now."