Predators-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

No team in the NHL has more points than the New York Rangers, but the red-hot Nashville Predators seem unlikely to be fazed by a visit to Madison Square Garden.

If anyone's apprehensive about Tuesday night's matchup, it should probably be the Rangers.

The Predators try to run their winning streak to a season-high six games as they continue a three-game trip at MSG, where they haven't lost in six visits dating back nearly 12 years.

Nashville (26-15-4) is technically nothing more than the fourth-place team in the top-heavy Central Division, but if it continues to perform like it has for the past three weeks, it might soon find itself in position for home-ice advantage come playoff time.

The Predators awoke from a 2-6-1 funk from mid-November to early December by winning five straight Dec. 8-17, but they responded by losing three of their next four.

Now, though, it appears Nashville has figured out a way to win consistently - by getting excellent goaltending and opportunistic scoring. The Predators scored three times in the first period Monday afternoon and Pekka Rinne did the rest, making 36 saves in a 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders that was their fifth straight and eighth in nine games.

"We were really inconsistent early on in the year. We played three or four good games and three or four poor games," defenseman Shea Weber told the NHL's official website. "The level of dropoff isn't as much right now. We're not quite as consistent as we want to be, as good as we want to be, but it's getting there."

Rinne is 8-1-0 with a 1.86 goals-against average in his last nine starts - allowing just a goal apiece in three road outings - but he has the benefit of having Weber and Ryan Suter playing heavy minutes in front of him.

It appears, however, that Rinne may have to do without arguably the league's top defensive pairing together Tuesday. Suter left Monday's game with an upper-body injury and is doubtful to face the Rangers (28-11-4).

"He's a great player, so it's not easy when he goes out of the lineup," said Weber, an All-Star along with Suter. "The good thing is we've got some great young players, and they did a great job again (Monday)."

The Predators are 5-0-0 with a tie at MSG since a 5-1 loss Jan. 31, 2000 - yielding a total of nine goals - but Rinne hasn't made a start there. Dan Ellis was in net when Nashville won 2-1 at MSG on Feb. 10, 2010, behind goals from Jordin Tootoo and Colin Wilson.

Like the Predators, New York has relied on winning generally tight, low-scoring games all season, but that hasn't worked as well recently. The Rangers have followed a stretch of 10 wins in 11 games by totaling four goals while dropping two of three, including Sunday's 4-1 loss at Montreal.

John Mitchell's first-period goal was the only offense New York mustered, but to coach John Tortorella, the issue was obvious.

"We had no structure defensively," Tortorella said. "That was our biggest problem."

The Rangers have rarely had such lapses at home, where they're 13-4-2 and haven't lost consecutive games in regulation. They had outscored their previous six opponents at MSG 21-9 before Thursday's 3-0 loss to Ottawa.

Henrik Lundqvist should be back in net after allowing seven goals in his previous two starts, both losses. He's 3-2-0 with a 1.79 GAA lifetime versus Nashville.

Rangers All-Star Marian Gaborik, who's been held to a goal and an assist in his last nine games, has six goals and five assists in his last seven against the Predators.

Center Brandon Dubinsky should return for New York after missing three straight games with a shoulder injury. He has three goals in his last six contests after scoring once in his previous 19.

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