As the NHL nears its trade deadline and the final push to the postseason, the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves battling for playoff positioning in the tight Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings.
The final head-to-head meeting this season between these emerging rivals takes place Sunday afternoon when the Rangers (40-19-2) host the Blue Jackets (38-16-5) at Madison Square Garden.
New York sits in the third playoff seed in the Metropolitan Division with 82 points. The Blue Jackets enter play in the first wild-card spot in the East, one point behind the Rangers with two games in hand.
"The focus has been real clear," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said on the team's Twitter account. "I think the guys are up to the task. Our goal is to be at the top of the league."
So far this year, the teams have split their first four encounters. The Rangers won two of three on the road in Columbus, and the Blue Jackets skated to a 6-4 victory on Jan. 31 in the only other game played in New York.
That previous game at Madison Square Garden was a memorable one as the Blue Jackets scored four times in the second period, knocking Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist from the game in the process, and raced to a 6-0 lead, before New York responded with four goals in the third period.
Lundqvist will start in goal on Sunday after watching Antti Raanta make 36 saves in Saturday's 4-3 overtime victory in New Jersey over the Devils.
This will be Lundqvist's 20th start in the past 23 games, and the heavy workload has paid off. After an inconsistent first half of the season, Lundqvist is in the midst of his most solid play right now, posting a 10-2-1 record, 1.91 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and one shutout in his last 14 appearances.
"I feel like I'm at the level I want to be," Lundqvist said to the New York Post. "Sometimes it's easier when things get more important, more heated. It's easier to find the right focus."
The Rangers are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games overall. On Saturday, they surrendered the tying and go-ahead goals early in the third period against the Devils but pulled even on an Adam Clendening goal late in the period and then won it on Mika Zibanejad's overtime winner.
Zibanejad snapped a 15-game drought without a goal.
"I felt the last three, four games here I've been getting back to making better plays," Zibanejad said. "I feel like I'm stepping back to being the old me again."
The Blue Jackets come roaring into The Garden after a 7-0 whitewashing of the New York Islanders in Columbus on Saturday. Backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo posted his first career shutout.
Twelve different players had at least one point Saturday to support Korpisalo's 24-save effort. Foligno and Josh Anderson both scored twice, and David Savard had a goal and two assists. In addition, Savard and his defensive partner, Jack Johnson, were both plus-5 in the lopsided victory, which came in Columbus' first game after their bye week.
"I know for other teams it's been a bit of a struggle," Anderson said about coming out of the break. "It was good for us to get away for a bit; and we came out, got our legs moving, played the body, and did a good job."
The Blue Jackets will be without Matt Calvert, who has an oblique strain. Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein will miss his third consecutive game because of back spasms.
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