RANGERS (18-8-4) at DEVILS (18-13-1)
TV: MSG, MSG PLUS
Last 10: New York 6-3-1; New Jersey 6-4-0.
Season Series: This is the first of six meetings between the cross-river rivals.
Big Story: The Devils have won five of their last six to pull within three points of the Rangers and Penguins in the standings. The Rangers are coming off a 3-2 win in Phoenix thanks to Brad Richards' winning goal with 0.1 seconds left on the regulation clock. The teams last met in the final weekend of the 2010-11 season and the Rangers pulled out a 5-2 win at Madison Square Garden to give themselves a chance at clinching a playoff berth. Carolina lost to Tampa Bay later in the night and the Rangers got their playoff berth.
Rangers: The Rangers defensive depth is being seriously tested these days.
Defenseman Steve Eminger has a separated shoulder and will be out for eight weeks. Jeff Woywitka is also battling a left ankle injury along with the flu. Michael Sauer remains out with a concussion and Marc Staal still recovering from his post-concussion symptoms.
Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh may be the only regular blue-liners that suit up Tuesday. Anton Stralman, who has played in the last six games since Sauer suffered his concussion, will now move into the top-four. Stu Bickel and Tim Erixon were recalled from Connecticut on an emergency basis and are almost certain to play.
"He never stands out, but he stands in the way, and does a lot of good things for us," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of Eminger. "So we will miss him. Having said that, we have had injuries all year long, especially at that position, so we'll just have to go about our business and play."
Devils: They played back-to-back this past Friday and Saturday, first at home against the Stars and then at Montreal on the same day the Canadiens made a coaching change from Jacques Martin to Randy Cunneyworth. The two games couldn't have gone any better.
The Devils won them both by scoring a combined 11 goals. Patrik Elias became the franchise's all-time leader in goals (348) by scoring a pair on Saturday at Bell Centre. Travis Zajac joined the lineup for the first time this season and played in both games. And, not to be outdone, Scott Niedermayer's No. 27 was raised to the rafters at Prudential Center on Friday.
The Devils will look to keep a good thing going against their biggest rivals with Martin Brodeur in net.
Who's Hot: Elias has 4 goals and 6 points in the last four games and leads the Devils with 13 goals and 29 points this season. Ilya Kovalchuk had 2 assists in Montreal, giving him 1 goal and 6 assists in the last four games. For the Rangers, Marian Gaborik has 2 goals in Phoenix and now has a team-high 17.
Injury Report: The Rangers will be without Eminger (shoulder), Sauer (concussion), Staal (post-concussion symptoms), Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia surgery) and potentially Woywitka (ankle, illness). For the Devils, Elias (illness) sat out Monday's practice and Henrik Tallinder has missed the last two games with back spasms.
Stat Pack: Credit Tom Gulitti, Devils beat writer for The (Bergen) Record and scribe for the always informative Fire & Ice blog on NorthJersey.com, for digging up this stat: The Devils and Rangers have never waited this long to play each other during a season. Prior to this season, the longest they had gone was 23 games into the season before facing each other. That happened three times (1995-96, 1999-2000 and 2000-01). However, starting Tuesday, the rivals will play each other six times in the next 41 games.
Puck Drop: "We're still going to play them six times, so who cares when you start?" Kovalchuk told Gulitti. "It's always nice when we play against the teams that are big rivalries like the Rangers, Islanders, Philly, Pittsburgh. All those division games, they're always big for us. Especially, we're chasing them in the standings, so that will make it even more important."