Rangers-Stars Preview

BY foxsports • February 26, 2016

The New York Rangers haven't been scoring much of late, but Henrik Lundqvist's consistent play has helped solidify their playoff chances.

Conversely, a defensive decline has denied the Dallas Stars an opportunity to expand their Central Division lead.

The slumping Stars look to progress in that area when they host the Rangers in Saturday's matchup of Stanley Cup hopefuls.

Though still in possession of the Western Conference's best record, Dallas (38-18-6) hasn't played like a contender during a 1-3-1 stretch filled with defensive breakdowns. The Stars have allowed six or more goals in each of those regulation losses.

The lowest point may have come Thursday, when Winnipeg recorded three unanswered third-period goals to deal the Stars a concerning 6-3 home loss. The Jets, last in the Central, were without two of their top three scorers in injured center Bryan Little and captain Andrew Ladd, traded to rival Chicago just prior to game time.

"It's embarrassing," Stars center Jason Spezza said. "We've got to cut down our goals against, we've got to help our goalies out, we've got to play better hockey."

Antti Niemi was pulled after permitting three first-period goals on eight shots and Kari Lehtonen stopped 17 of 20 in relief. Neither has been playing well in combining for a 3.75 goals-against average and .878 save percentage since the All-Star break.

The Stars were struggling to stop opponents prior to then, however, as was the case in a 6-2 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 5, with Niemi stopping 23 shots.

New York (35-20-6) hasn't been nearly as prolific lately, totaling five goals in its last three. It's top line of Derick Brassard, J.T. Miller and Mats Zuccarello hasn't had a point over that span nor has Derek Stepan, who scored twice last month against Dallas.

The Rangers still have won three of four in large part due to Lundqvist, who improved to 7-2-0 with a 1.65 GAA over his last nine stats with 35 saves in Thursday's 2-1 win at St. Louis. The steady veteran joined Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy as the only goaltenders in NHL history with 30 victories in 10 separate seasons.

''Every game you know that you're going to get his best effort and you're going to get great preparation and he's going to give you a chance to win and that's what you want from your goaltender,'' Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.

New York did just enough offensively to allow Lundqvist to reach the mark, with Chris Kreider scoring the tie-breaking goal early in the third period moments after Lundqvist thwarted Scottie Upshall on a breakaway.

Dallas, one point ahead of Chicago and three in front of St. Louis, has continued to get production from an offense that leads the league with 200 goals. The Stars have scored three or more in four straight and eight of nine.

Spezza registered two goals against Winnipeg and has five points in four games since returning from a lower-body injury. Jamie Benn has six over a four-game point streak and Patrick Sharp and John Klingberg have contributed four assists each over the last two.

The Rangers have yielded two goals or fewer in each win during an 8-2-1 stretch and are 30-3-3 this season when allowing two or less, which includes a 3-2 shootout loss.

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