Rangers host Blackhawks aiming for sixth straight win

( - While Henrik Lundqvist has recently been cleared to return to practice, the excellent play of Cam Talbot in net has the New York Rangers in no need of rushing the star goaltender back into action.

Talbot and the Rangers shoot for a sixth victory in a row on Wednesday night when they take on the Chicago Blackhawks.

Lundqvist has not played since Feb. 2 versus Florida, a start that came two days after he was hit in the throat by a puck in a game against Carolina. He finished out that contest and played the full 60 minutes against the Panthers before being shut down due to a vascular injury.

Lundqvist is 25-11-3 with a 2.25 goals against average, .922 save percentage and five shutouts in 39 starts this season, but the Rangers have hardly felt his loss as Talbot has gone 13-2-3 since Lundqvist's injury.

Talbot is 17-6-4 with a 2.19 GAA, .926 save percentage and five shutouts in 29 games (27 starts) on the season and has yielded one goal or fewer in five of his past six outings.

New York has needed his stellar play as it has just 10 goals over a five-game winning streak, getting tallies from James Sheppard and Matt Hunwick in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Panthers.

Hunwick snapped a 93-game goal drought and Sheppard got his first goal with the Rangers since being acquired from San Jose on March 1, while Talbot came up with 38 saves.

"We were very fortunate that our goaltender was on top of his game," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.

New York improved to 14-1-2 over its past 17 games and is five points ahead of the New York Islanders for first place in the Metropolitan Division with an NHL high-tying 95 points.

Though Lundqvist appears close to returning, the Rangers did lose forward Martin St. Louis for the next 10-to-14 days because of a lower-body injury sustained versus the Panthers. In 68 games this season, the 39-year-old has registered 20 goals and 27 assists.

The loss of St. Louis could put more pressure on Talbot, who has won both of his career starts versus the Blackhawks while giving up only one goal on 61 shots faced. He posted a 29-save shutout in a 1-0 overtime win at Chicago on March 8.

Derick Brassard scored 32 seconds into overtime as the Rangers topped the Blackhawks for a third straight time. They also have won five of the past seven encounters at home.

Corey Crawford ended with 35 saves for the Blackhawks, falling to 1-2-1 with a 2.03 GAA and .931 save percentage in four career meetings with the Blueshirts.

Chicago is aiming for a fourth win in a row and helped the Rangers' chances at a division title with last night's 4-1 win over the New York Islanders. Jonathan Toews led the way with four points off a pair of goals and two assists.

Marian Hossa also scored and Patrick Sharp notched a pair of helpers one game after breaking out with two goals in a win over San Jose on Saturday.

"We were making plays," said Toews. "I think Hossa and I fed off of Sharp's momentum from the last game."

Crawford made 38 saves to extend Chicago's point streak to six games in a row (5-0-1). The 'Hawks are four points back of the second-place Nashville Predators in the Central Division and are five ahead of Minnesota.

The Blackhawks begin a four-game road trip and it is unknown if Crawford will get the start again tonight or if backup Scott Darling will make his first appearance since Feb. 27.