With their “bye week” out of the way, the New York Rangers will finally make a return to the ice on Friday night, partaking in the first half of a weekend back-to-back set, tonight’s opponent being the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden (7 PM, MSG).
The Rangers (28-13-1) have had six days to recover from their last win, a come-from-behind victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on the road in 5-4 fashion. The Rangers trailed 4-1 in the early stages of the second period, but a Michael Grabner hat trick, as well as the first goals of the season from Oscar Lindberg and Adam Clendening, allowed them to pull the victory, with Grabner earning his second hat trick of the season. The latter two goals of that display tied and won the game, as Grabner silenced the Blue Jackets faithful with the winner with 17 seconds remaining in regulation. For his efforts, including two goals in the Rangers’ prior win on Wednesday in Philadelphia, in which he also scored the game winning goal, Grabner was awarded First Star of the Week by the NHL.
Toronto (18-13-8) likewise had an extended rest, as they also last played on Saturday night, falling 5-3 to the Montreal Canadiens, their 13th consecutive loss to the Habs. Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri helped make up a 2-0 first period deficit, and James van Riemsdyk, who assisted on the first two goals, tied it again in the second, but two Montreal goals briefly stalled a hot streak for the Leafs, who have won 7 of their past 10. The Montreal loss was their first in regulation since December 19.
This will be the first of three meetings between the two Original Six opponents, and the first of two in the next six days. The Rangers swept the trio held last year, including the most recent meeting a 4-2 win in Toronto. Derek Stepan broke a 2-2 tie in the third period for the game winning goal, while JT Miller assisted on all but one of the goals. The teams will meet at Air Canada Centre on Thursday before a final meeting on February 23.
The Rangers will welcome back both Pavel Buchnevich and Rick Nash to the lineup tonight. The rookie Buchnevich has not played since November 12, but had points in each of the last four games he played. Nash, scorer of 13 goals this season, will play for the first time since December 18.
The Rangers will also pay tribute to NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, who passed away earlier this week after a heart attack at the age of 59. The teams has encouraged fans to arrive early and wear blue for tonight’s game, and they will also wear a special warmup uniform bearing and game jersey patch bearing McDonald’s badge number, 104.