Toronto (14-10-2) at NY Rangers (15-5-3)

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By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO, STATS Writer Monday, Dec 5, 2011 Puck Drop: 7:00 pm EST Mon Dec 5, 2011

The New York Rangers were posting mediocre results when they lost their home opener to the Toronto Maple Leafs nearly six weeks ago.

They’re now among the hottest teams in the NHL, and that’s especially true at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers look to extend their longest home winning streak in 21 years Monday night when they face the Maple Leafs.

New York (15-5-3) went 3-2-2 during a season-opening seven-game, three-country road trip before falling 4-2 to Toronto (14-10-2) on Oct. 27, getting outshot 26-14 in the final two periods. The Rangers followed that up with a 5-4 shootout loss to Ottawa in Manhattan two days later.

Since then, they’re 12-2-0 to move among the best teams in the league, and success at home is playing a major role. New York has outscored opponents 26-10 to win seven in a row at MSG, the team’s longest run there within a single season since winning the first eight home games of 1990-91.

“I think the guys are buying into it - the style of play we want to play, play a hard simple game which allows us to make simple plays and create chances to score some goals,” center Derek Stepan(notes) told the team’s official website.

Stepan kept the Rangers rolling Saturday, giving them the lead for the first time on the eventual game-winner with 3:19 to play in a 4-2 victory at Tampa Bay. New York scored three times in the third period to extend its overall winning streak to five.

“I’m really happy how the guys handled themselves in between the second and third period,” coach John Tortorella said. “I don’t think there was any panic within them, and they just stayed with it.

“We have it rolling our way here. I thought we earned it. I don’t think we went in the back door.”

Brad Richards(notes), who scored an empty-net goal Saturday, has four goals and five assists during a five-game scoring streak. The star center leads the Rangers with 22 points, and his 10 goals tie Ryan Callahan(notes) for second behind Marian Gaborik’s(notes) 12.

In his first season with New York, Richards has made himself at home at the Garden, netting six goals and setting up five others in nine games. The last matchup with Toronto, however, was one of three contests there in which he was held without a point.

Henrik Lundqvist(notes) made 32 saves in that meeting with the Leafs, and he figures to be in net after stopping 24 shots Saturday. He’s won nine of his last 10 starts behind a 1.89 goals-against average and a shutout, including a 1.58 GAA during a personal five-game home winning streak.

Toronto is trying to avoid matching its longest slide of the season after being swept in a home-and-home set with Boston. The Maple Leafs fell 4-1 on the road Saturday after losing 6-3 on Wednesday.

Phil Kessel(notes) is tied with Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux(notes) with a league-leading 32 points, while his 16 goals match Steven Stamkos(notes) of Tampa Bay and Ottawa’s Milan Michalek(notes) for the NHL lead.

Kessel, though, has no goals and three assists in his last five games - not to mention a minus-7 rating in that stretch.

Joffrey Lupul(notes), who scored a goal in New York in October, is also among the NHL’s top scorers with 12 goals and 30 points. The left wing had a seven-game point streak snapped Saturday.

James Reimer(notes) could face the Rangers for the first time after making 26 saves Saturday in his first game since an Oct. 22 injury that led to concussion-like symptoms.

“He was very solid, looked like he hadn’t missed a beat,” coach Ron Wilson said.

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