GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The NHL’s hottest team was on the ice practicing Tuesday morning before catching an afternoon flight to Chicago. The Rangers flew there riding the league’s longest winning streak of the season at six games, but Henrik Lundqvist knew their heads didn’t belong in the clouds.
Yes, their confidence has swelled. Yes, they have been playing very good hockey. But their 3-7-2 start has become only a 9-7-2 start. So this is no time to feel satisfied.
“Yeah, we had a great run here, but because of our start, we’re not in a great position,” Lundqvist said. “So it’s important that we understand the importance of the next six games and the games after that. The race is going to be really close, I think, all year. I’m happy we’ve been able to put this streak together.”
After receiving a heavy dose of MSG over the first 18 games — 13 at home — the Rangers have two games on the road before playing five more out of six at the Garden.
They play Wednesday night against the Blackhawks (8-8-2). Then Friday night, the Rangers are at Columbus (10-7-1 through Monday). They lost, 3-1, at Columbus during their bad early stretch and are only 2-3 away from the Garden.
“It’s obviously an area where you have to be able to win on the road in order to be successful in this league,” Kevin Shattenkirk said.
The Rangers have won four straight at Chicago, but all have been by one goal, two by 1-0 counts in overtime.
“I would say that it’s definitely two good teams that play a similar brand of hockey,” Alain Vigneault said.
The Rangers’ brand has been enhanced during the six-game streak by the power play (8-for-19) and the penalty-killing unit (13-for-14). Lundqvist has done his part protecting the net. There has also been a commitment to defense at five-on-five. The offense has scored at least four goals five times.
“I think you kind of have that confidence, that momentum, that you build through the six games that it feels like you have a great chance,” Rick Nash said.
This next game will mark Lundqvist’s seventh straight start and 16th overall. The schedule has included a lot of off days, allowing him to play more.
“It’s permitted him to find his game, to play better,” Vig neault said. “And obviously when Hank plays better, we play better.”