At a glance: Riding a four-game winning streak, the red-hot Devils visit Madison Square Garden for the first time this season looking to knock off the dominant Rangers. The Broadway Blueshirts remain on top in the Eastern Conference standings, three points removed from the 2nd place Boston Bruins and eight points ahead of the 6th place Devils.
Last time around: In the first game back following last month’s All-Star break, the Devils capitalized on a lucky bounce to force overtime. New Jersey went on to beat the Rangers 4-3 for their ninth shootout win of the season.
Stars align: Tuesday’s match marks the meeting of two of the game’s best snipers in Kovalchuk and Rangers’ leading scorer Marian Gaborik. Kovalchuk’s ten points (three goals, seven assists) over the last four games earned him honors as the NHL’s second star of the week. Gaborik tallied his 26th goal of the season and added an assist in the Rangers’ 5-2 win against the Flyers Saturday.
Back in action: After watching his first Rangers-Devils game from the bench in over five years last Tuesday, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is expected to return Tuesday. The 29 -year-old Swedish netminder, who boasts a 23-9-5 career record against the Devils, is putting together a Vezina-caliber year. Lundqvist (24-10-4) leads the league with a .939 save percentage and ranks second behind St Louis’ Brian Elliott in goals against average with a 1.82 GAA.
Depleted defense: Already without defenseman Henrik Tallinder (leg), the Devils are unlikely to return rookie Adam Larsson to the lineup. Larsson is expected to miss his third straight game with a back injury suffered in the Devils’ 5-3 victory over the Canadiens last Thursday. Larsson was rocked by a hit from Montreal’s P.K. Subban, sustaining what the Devils called a “bruised lower back.”
Rough stuff: Both the Rangers (1st, 42) and the Devils (8th, 26) rank among the top eight teams in fighting majors. Tough guys Brandon Prust is third in the NHL with 13 fighting majors and the Devils appear prepared for a fight. Both Erik Boulton and Cam Janssen will be in the lineup for the team’s third meeting of the season and second in the past week.
Game-time decision: Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger has been medically cleared to return from a shoulder injury that has sidelined him for almost two months, but he may be watching another game from the press box. On Monday, coach John Tortorella said he was “not sure” about lineup changes, but sixth defenseman Stu Bickel appears likely to play. The rugged, 25-year-old blue-liner dropped the gloves twice in the Rangers’ physical win over Philly on Saturday.