W2W4: Rangers vs. Canadiens

At a glance: The Rangers look to make it four straight Friday when they return to Madison Square Garden to host the beleaguered Montreal Canadiens. With a five-point lead in the standings, the Rangers need only five more to clinch an Eastern Conference title. And while the Pittsburgh Penguins was threatening to challenge the Rangers for the No. 1 seed, they dropped two straight to the lowly Islanders in a home-and-home set this week.

Eight straight for Hank: Henrik Lundqvist will make his season-high eighth straight start tonight against Montreal. The 30-year-old netminder has recorded three straight wins and, with tough opponents like Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on the upcoming schedule, may be locked in between the pipes for the rest of the regular season. That’s no worry for him. “This is what I’m used to, playing a lot, and a I feel good” he said after Friday’s morning skate.

Outta here: The Habs dismissed general manager Pierre Gauthier Thursday with a little over a week left in a disastrous season that caused the Canadiens to clean house across the board. Former Hab Serge Savard will advise team owner Geoff Molson in the search for a new steward; leading candidates appear to be Patrick Roy, Julien Brisebois and a handful of others.

Stralman sticks: In the midst of evaluating personnel with whom he feels comfortable in rolling out each night, Rangers coach John Tortorella swapped defenseman Anton Stralman in for rookie Tim Erixon the past two games and Stralman appears to be sticking on with the team’s defensive corps. Erixon was sent back to the American Hockey League Thursday after his recent five-game stint with the big club. Stralman was paired with Marc Staal Friday morning, but Tortorella said he’s still not certain of which tandems he’ll use down the road.

Records in reach: With 49 wins this season, the Rangers are only three shy of a franchise best (52), set in the team’s 1993-94 Stanley-Cup winning season. With 105 points, the team is seven shy of the highest point total ever, set by the same ‘93-94 squad that finished the regular season with 112.

Moving on up: Gritty center Brian Boyle skated on the second line with core forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan Friday morning. Second-year pivot Derek Stepan was between Artem Anisimov and Ruslan Fedotenko while John Mitchell centered a line with veteran Mike Rupp and tough guy Brandon Prust.