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East-leading Rangers drop in on Capitals

by Dave Lozo
RANGERS (22-8-4) at CAPITALS (17-15-2)


Last 10:
New York 7-2-1; Washington 5-4-1

Season Series:
The Rangers won the first of four meetings with the Capitals, beating them 6-3 at Verizon Center on Nov. 25. It was the penultimate game of coach Bruce Boudreau's time in Washington. Dale Hunter took over behind the bench Nov. 29, and the Caps are 5-6-1 since the move.

Big Story:
The Rangers and Capitals enter this contest headed in different directions. New York has won five straight to claim the top spot in the Eastern Conference, while Washington has lost four of six and sits on the outside of the playoff picture.

Team Scope:

Rangers: Their 3-0 win against the Islanders on Monday wasn't indicative of how close the game was. The Rangers received two goals from Carl Hagelin and 28 saves from Henrik Lundqvist, who had to be brilliant at times to protect a one-goal lead.

Coach John Tortorella wants a steadier a performance from his team.

"Our game tonight, I thought we had some really good minutes and we had some brutal minutes," Tortorella said. "When we had some brutal minutes, Hank was outstanding. We have some work to do as a club as far as consistency. We have some guys chipping in, but we have to get some other guys going also."

Marian Gaborik scored his League-leading 22nd goal to cap the win.

Capitals: Things got out of hand quickly in Buffalo on Monday. Nine seconds into the game against the Sabres, Roman Hamrlik took a delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. Forty-two seconds after that, the Sabres led 1-0.

It was 4-0 Sabres after one period, and that would be enough in a 4-2 victory against the Caps. Michal Neuvirth was yanked at the midway point of the first period after allowing three goals on six shots.

"We have to put the blame on us," forward Matt Hendricks said. "We need to become a better team from the start of games."

Who's Hot: Marian Gaborik has been a goal-scoring machine with 12 in his last 14 games and 7 in his last five.

Injury Report:
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal was cleared for contact earlier this week but is not yet ready to make his season debut as he recovers from a concussion. Also missing from the lineup are defensemen Michael Sauer (concussion) and Steve Eminger (shoulder) and forward Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia). Jeff Woywitka will return from a foot injury to take Tim Erixon's spot. … Washington will be without Mike Green (groin), Tom Poti (groin) and Mathieu Perreault (spleen). Jay Beagle, who missed 31 games due to a concussion, is back tonight.

Stat Pack:
The last time the Capitals weren't in a playoff spot this deep into the season was April 4, 2008. That was during their late-season run to the playoffs in which they tracked down the Carolina Hurricanes for the Southeast Division title.

Puck Drop:
"I think there's great depth in the team," Hagelin said of the Rangers. "There's a lot of guys out and it shows that the organization is doing a great job preparing guys for this. It's fun, I think we're all enjoying it. We were all brought into the system and every game we just keep playing the same way."

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