Almost two weeks ago, when the Rangers were still in a rough patch, their upcoming schedule looked even more daunting.
Staring in their face was a two-game road trip against the Western Conference’s best team, the Golden Knights, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche. They then face two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference in the Devils and Maple Leafs.
The hard-fought three-game stretch is the core of the Rangers’ longest winning streak of the season.
The Rangers, winners of four straight, face another challenge Thursday night, having not lost in regulation since Nov. 11 (12-0-3) at the Garden hosts the incoming Maple Leafs.
“Real good hockey teams, I hope they get the best of your team,” coach Gerard Gallant said after practice Wednesday. “Sometimes you look at the schedule before the season starts and you say, ‘This is going to be tough.’ But you never know in the new NHL. Any team can beat you. If you play well, you can beat any team. So I’m figuring it out. “
The Rangers know they haven’t been playing their best hockey for 60 minutes every night, but they’re starting to find ways to win instead of losing.
“I’m happy to win, but I wish we played a little bit better,” Gallant said.
The Rangers’ line in Wednesday’s practice was the same line they finished Monday’s game, the top line of Artemi Panarin-Mika Zibanejad-Vincent Trocheck and the second line of Alexis Lafreniere-Philippe Chytil-Kaapo Kakko.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Panarin and Zibanejad have played just 67-39 in five-on-five games together this season, during which the Rangers have scored two goals and allowed four goals. When asked if he wondered what the talented pair would look like together for so long, Gallant laughed, “What’s with me for so long?”
“We’ll see where it goes,” Gallant added. “I wouldn’t have put them together if I didn’t think they were a good fit.”
Vitaly Kravtsov, skating as an extra on Wednesday, has been healthy for the past three games after sitting out four games between Nov. 30 and Dec. 5. When asked if Kravtsov has a chance to play in AHL Hartford, Gallant replied: “You’re asking the wrong person.”