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.