The “Oh yeah, those Eastern Conference teams exist” tour continues with a trip to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers, a team the Minnesota Wild haven’t faced since a 4-3 shootout loss back on February 13th, 2020. Tonight’s matchup is special for players on both rosters, as New York will honor long-time netminder and Broadway legend Henrik Lundqvist by retiring his jersey, while Mats Zuccarello will reunite with his bestie and play on the MSG ice he called home over eight seasons for only the second time since being traded back in the 2018-19 season.
It’s also worth a great big two points in the standings for two teams that have each been playing well lately and need to string together wins to continue to climb the charts. Minnesota has points in seven straight yet haven’t been able to make up ground on third place in Central, still trailing the St. Louis Blues by four, while the Rangers have gone 9-4-0 over their last 13 and are tied in points with Carolina and Pittsburgh, yet sit in third place by virtue of having played more games.
Despite coming off a 5-3 loss Thursday night to the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York has been setting the net on fire at home lately, scoring an average of 4.8 goals per game at MSG since the start of the new year. Leading the way for NYR are the usual suspects of forwards Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider and young defenseman Adam Fox. Panerin has a six-game points streak going and has scored multiple points in his last three outings, including a one goal, two assist effort against the Jackets Thursday night. Kreider had his seven-game points streak snapped against Columbus (9 goals, 2 assists) while Fox continued his seven-game streak of 2 goals and 9 assists against the Blue Jackets.
Note: The Rangers have announced that Fox has been placed on IR. Nils Lundkvist has been brought up in replacement.
In net, Igor Shesterkin has been lights out, winning 12 of his last 13 starts with a save percentage of .945. Backup Alexandar Georgiev has taken the L in his last three outings including Thursday’s loss to Columbus, so expect Shesterkin between the pipes on the night where New York will be honoring excellence in goal.
The Rangers will be without 2019 second-overall selection Kaapo Kakko, who was placed on injured reserve back on January 22nd with an upper body injury. Forward Filip Chytil may make his return to the lineup against Minnesota after missing two games with a lower body injury.
The Wild, on the other hand, will be excited to welcome back one of their top defensemen Jonas Brodin, who has been out since January 6th after leaving the game against Boston with a lower body injury. Brodin’s linemate, Matt Dumba, is reportedly excited to get his regular partner back for Dumba’s 500th career game. Brodin is also jazzed to take the ice for his fellow countryman Lundqvist’s night of honor, as Brodin looked up to Henrik in Sweden growing up.
Brodin’s participation comes just in time as fellow defenseman Jon Merril has been ruled out for tonight’s game, having been placed in the COVID protocol. Also on the protocol and missing for Minnesota is fourth-line forward Nico Sturm, who will likely be replaced by Victor Rask, though Minnesota also brought up Kyle Rau from Iowa if needed during the upcoming four-game roadtrip.
The rest of the roster will want to keep the pedal to the metal to keep up with the Rangers scoring - something the Wild have been adept at lately as well. Minnesota has averaged over five goals per game over their last five games, and several players are on massive scorings streaks. Zuccarello’s streak is the most impressive at 16 points (4g, 12a) over his last nine games, and Lizard has multiple points in each of his last five. Kevin Fiala has 11 points in his last nine (7g, 4a), and last year’s Calder winner Kirill Kaprizov has 17 points over his last nine, though his streak isn’t recognized by the NHL since he missed a game due to injury in the midst of his recent seven goal, 10 assist performance.
Defensively, Jared Spurgeon has also been on fire since returning from his lengthy absence due to injury with four points (1g, 3a) in his two games back. In net, Cam Talbot will get the start against the Rangers despite leaving Monday’s game against the Montreal Canadians after re-tweaking the injury he suffered in the Winter Classic. Kaapo Kahkonen held down the fort in that game, earning the NHL’s equivelant of a MLB save and preserving the win.
With the Blues upcoming schedule looking as soft as sponge cake (the toughest matchup being a game against the just-above .500 Winnipeg), the Wild have to grab every point they can in the standings. Get ready for a potential shootout tonight as Minnesota takes the ice against the Rangers in one of hockey’s most historic venues.
Puck drops at 7 p.m.
Can Brodin make a difference on defense?
Brodin has reportedly been keeping up his conditioning despite not taking a full part in practice until Thursday, but missing three weeks of NHL action usually means it takes a bit to get up to 100%. The Wild need Brodin’s shut-down defensive abilities against the high-flying offensive attack of the Rangers, so getting up to game speed quickly will be paramount.
Will the Wild keep streaking on Broadway?
Lizard, Dolla Bill, (enter Fiala’s nickname here), heck, even Tank (aka Spurgeon General) is on a points streak. Shesterkin is stingy, so there may not be opportunities for all of the Wild’s scoring streakers to keep things going. Who will stay en fuego, and who will end up frío como hielo?
Can the Wild take advanage on the power play?
Seems like it’s the story every year, but the Wild’s 21st-ranked power play has three goals in ten chances over their last two games. The Rangers’ special teams are pretty special, both ranking in the top ten in the NHL, but they do rank 11th in the league in opponent’s power play opportunities per game at nearly 3. So the Wild should get a couple chances - can the keep up the recent trend and take full advantage of the man advantage?