NHL

Kings-Rangers Preview

Although the New York Rangers fell to the Los Angeles Kings in last year's Stanley Cup Finals, right now they're the one in a position to get back to that point.

Their first order of business, though, is claiming a different prize.

The Rangers look to remain atop the NHL standings and dent the Kings' playoff hopes Tuesday night when they play at Madison Square Garden for the first time since Game 4.

New York (46-18-7) unexpectedly reached the Cup finals last year but was defeated in five games by Los Angeles (35-23-14).

The Rangers are among the favorites to return and are tied with Montreal and Anaheim with a league-high 99 points in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. New York has the inside track on home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs with 11 games left in the regular season - two more than the Canadiens and three more than the Ducks.

The Kings, on the other hand, aren't anywhere near them and are two points back of Calgary for third place in the Pacific Division. They also trail Winnipeg by four points for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

While Los Angeles spends its last 10 games trying to earn the right to defend its crown, the Rangers are looking every bit like contenders. They pounded the Ducks 7-2 on Sunday, winning for the seventh time in eight games and improving to 17-3-3 since Henrik Lundqvist was sidelined by a neck injury.

Lundqvist is nearing a return, but Cam Talbot has given him a chance to take his time, going 15-3-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average in place of the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner. Talbot has won six of seven starts behind a 1.13 GAA after making 36 stops versus Anaheim.

Talbot had 28 saves in his only career meeting with the Kings on Jan. 8, and the Rangers overcame a two-goal deficit to win 4-3 at Staples Center.

Derek Stepan didn't get a point in that meeting and only managed two assists against the Kings in the finals while playing through a broken jaw.

The center should be feeling good, though, after scoring two goals and assisting on another Sunday to end a 12-game points drought and a span of 14 straight without a goal.

"It feels like a couple of pianos came off my back," Stepan said. "When the offense comes, we've got to make sure we bear down and continue to play hard. When you play a good team like Anaheim, you raise your level."

The Kings are going to have to do that immediately after beating New Jersey 3-1 on Monday to open a five-game trip. The rest of the jaunt comes against teams in playoff position and will be vital to Los Angeles reaching the postseason.

"Every time you go on a long road trip, the first game is obviously very important. It sets the tone," said center Anze Kopitar, who had one goal and two assists Monday to give him five points in three games.

Kopitar has 11 points in 15 overall meetings with the Rangers after getting an assist on Justin Williams' tally Jan. 8. Williams scored twice in that matchup after collecting seven points against New York in the finals to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy.

With their playoff fate still hanging in the balance, the Kings may have Jonathan Quick in net after he made 19 saves against the Devils. He's 6-3-2 with a 1.86 GAA and two shutouts while making 11 straight starts.

He owns a 1.97 GAA while winning six of nine meetings with New York, including the finals. However, he had just 17 stops against Lundqvist's 40 in a 2-1 loss in Game 4.

The Rangers are 16-4-5 against the West and 11-1-1 against the Pacific.

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