Monday's matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets (35-14-5) and the New York Rangers (36-18-3) promises to be a compelling battle between Metropolitan Division opponents.
The Rangers, currently fourth in the division, are riding a five-game win streak and have won eight of their last 10. Columbus holds the second rank in the division but has fought to find consistency as of late. They have gone 8-9-1 since their franchise record 16-game win streak earlier this season.
"There's some inexperience in this group," Jackets head coach John Tortorella said. "But we have to grow out of that. These are games that a lot of guys are wishing they were playing the last couple years, games that mean something. (We need to) embrace it. We have to go with the attitude that 'safe is death.' I don't want us to be afraid to make a mistake. Let's take a chance. Let's make a decision and let's go. I think we'll have a much better opportunity to have consistency that way."
The teams will be playing their fourth of the five-game season series. New York holds the edge over the Blue Jackets both all-time (15-10-1-1), and when playing at Nationwide Arena (8-7-0-0). The Rangers have won eight of their last 10 vs. Columbus dating back to Jan 16, 2015.
"We are a confident group," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "We believe in each other we believe we can raise our game when we really have to."
New York beat the Colorado Avalanche Saturday 4-2 in a game that marked Lundqvist's 400th NHL win. He's just the 12th goaltender in the league, and the first European born goaltender to reach that milestone.
"His preparation and focus is up there with the top players I've coached," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "He wants to do well and he wants this team to do well. I'm happy he got this done here tonight."
Lundqvist has 26 wins this season, but he is not the only player New York is counting on when it comes to coming out on the right side of games. J.T. Miller leads the team in points (18-27-45) and is riding a six game point streak (2-8-10), and four of the last games have been multi-point outings for the forward.
Derek Stepan (12-28-40) has the most points against the Blue Jackets among active Rangers (7-9-16) and has scored a point in nine of the last 11 games.
Michael Grabner is the second ranked Ranger for points against Columbus. He's scored seven goals and five assists in 12 games, including a hat trick during New York's last game at Nationwide Arena Jan. 7.
Since the All-Star break, Columbus has been riding the performance of the line centered by Brandon Dubinsky with Boone Jenner and Cam Atkinson on the wings. The grouping has combined for six goals and eight assists in the six games. Atkinson is fourth overall in the league in goals scored (27) and is tied for third overall in game winning goals (6) including the deciding tally in a 2-1 win Saturday against Detroit.
"Dubinsky has cranked it up here," Jenner said. "You can see he's playing well and making a lot of great plays on both sides of the puck and same with Cam, he got another huge goal for us (against the Red Wings)."
Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is second in the NHL with 30 wins and tied for sixth in the league with a .926 save percentage.