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Rangers will be thankful if events from a year ago don't repeat themselves

Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers

Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers woke up on Thanksgiving morning with a three-game winning streak and an overall record of 12-9-2. They will play a nationally televised afternoon game on Black Friday in Boston against the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins (17-3-5), who have the best record in the league.

A year ago, the Rangers woke up on Thanksgiving with a three-game winning streak and a record of 12-8-2. They played a nationally televised afternoon game on Black Friday in Philadelphia against the Flyers.

That did not go well. The Rangers played one of their worst games of the season in a 4-0 loss and went into a free fall after that.

No one at the Rangers’ Thanksgiving Day practice wanted to hear about last season, though.

“That was last year,’’ said Mika Zibanejad, who spent much of his time on ice Thursday throwing a football with Brady Skjei, as is the Rangers’ custom at Thanksgiving Day practices. “It’s a different team; it’s a different feeling here.’’

Zibanejad, who was feeling fine after playing his first game in a month and scoring the first goal in the Rangers’ 3-2 win over Carolina on Wednesday night at the Garden, brought up the lame-duck status of free agents-to-be Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid, who were traded at the February deadline. Knowing that those three definitely were going to be traded cast a pall over the team for most of the season, he said.

This year, only Chris Kreider is in that situation, and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. “So it’s a different situation now,’’ Zibanejad said.

Skjei said he believes the Rangers have “grown and matured’’ since last year’s Black Friday debacle. He pointed to Wednesday’s win, in which the Rangers took a 3-0 lead in the first period, allowed two goals in the second and managed to preserve their lead in the third. That kind of game didn’t happen often last season.

“I think our team’s in a better spot than we were a year ago,’’ Skjei said. “Last year, we kind of struggled to close out games, and games we were in, up by a goal or down by a goal, we seemed to not get points out of. And you know, this year . . . I think that everyone’s kind of learned how to close out a game and take care of a lead.’’

Coach David Quinn agreed the feel this season is different from a year ago. Last season’s team was more streaky, he said. That team started 3-7-1 and went 9-1-1 in its next 11 games leading into Thanksgiving. This season’s team bottomed out at 3-5-1 with a 7-4 loss to Boston on Oct. 27, the game in which Zibanejad got hurt on a high hit by Patrice Bergeron. The Rangers are 9-4-1 since.

Good, but not, as Quinn said, “crazy.’’

“We’re not on a crazy streak, but we’ve been playing some . . . maybe not consistent good hockey, but it hasn’t been a long stretch we’ve played poorly, and there hasn’t been a long stretch where we played great,’’ he said. “It’s kind of been, play two good ones, and bad one; play two good ones, and bad one. So it has been, relative to last year, more consistency.’’

Notes & quotes: D Marc Staal practiced in a red (no-contact) jersey for the first time since his Nov. 8 ankle surgery. He said if all goes well, he could be ready to play sometime next week. Quinn said he is “itching’’ to get Staal back in the lineup . . . C Greg McKegg did not practice. Quinn said he is day-to-day with a lower-body injury . . . Henrik Lundqvist did not practice but will start Friday in Boston, Quinn said. Alexandar Georgiev will start Saturday in New Jersey.

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