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Nashville Predators vs. New York Rangers @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Nashville Predators (34-28-11-3) at New York Rangers (25-37-7-8).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

If the Nashville Predators plan on making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, leaving Madison Square Garden with a victory is critical.

The slumping Predators continue their pursuit of a postseason berth when they face the New York Rangers, losers of seven straight.

With less than two weeks left in the regular season, Nashville, Edmonton, St. Louis and Los Angeles are battling for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Predators are one point ahead of the ninth-place Blues, but have played one more game than St. Louis.

Opening a stretch of five straight games against non-playoff teams, Nashville suffered a 4-1 home loss to Anaheim on Tuesday.

Scott Walker scored his team-leading 24th goal for the Predators, who failed to record their franchise-record 35th victory. Nashville has one win in nine games (1-4-3-1).

With his team outshot 18-7 in the second period alone, Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun couldn't explain his team's lack of emotion.

"I wish I knew. We were sorely mistaken if we thought they were just going to pack it in and let us win, because nobody's going to do that," Vokoun said.

Part of Nashville's problem lately has been an ineffective power play. That unit was 1-for-9 Tuesday, and is 1-for-17 over the past four games.

"They did a good job penalty killing, but on our power play, we seemed to not take what they were giving us," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "We were determined to make some plays that just weren't there. We were trying to make something out of nothing and that is not how a power play works."

Assured of missing the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the Rangers' losing streak reached seven (0-4-0-3) with a 5-2 defeat to visiting Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Jaromir Jagr and Thomas Pock, playing in his first NHL game, scored for New York, 2-8-0-4 in its last 14.

The Rangers signed Pock from the University of Massachusetts on Tuesday and put him right in the lineup. Pock, 22, is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the nation's top college player.

"Obviously, when you're growing up you dream about going to the NHL and when you score your first goal, so I'm happy, and on the same day I'm signing, so its nice," Pock said.

The Rangers will be without captain Mark Messier on Thursday while he serves the finale of his two-game suspension for spearing Pittsburgh's Martin Strbak on Sunday.

STANDINGS: Predators - 82 points, 2nd place, 17 PB, Central Division. Rangers - 65 points, 4th place, 33 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Predators - Walker, 24 goals; Steve Sullivan, 44 assists and 67 points; Jordin Tootoo, 127 PIM. Rangers - Jagr, 29 goals, 42 assists and 71 points; Dale Purinton, 113 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 23): Predators - Power play: 17.5 percent (70 for 401), 9th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (275 for 336), 25th. Rangers - Power play: 13.5 percent (42 for 312), 27th. Penalty killing: 78.9 percent (292 for 370), 29th.

GOALTENDERS: Predators - Vokoun (31-27-10, 3 SO, 2.57 GAA); Chris Mason (3-4-1, 1, 2.28). Rangers - Mike Dunham (16-28-6, 2, 2.99); Jamie McLennan (12-12-3, 4, 2.32).

SEASON SERIES: Predators, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 28; Predators 2-1, OT. At Nashville, Tenn., Andrew Hutchinson scored a power-play goal 3:50 into overtime, lifting the Predators to their fifth win in six games.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Predators - 13-19-4-2 on the road; Rangers - 13-19-3-4 at home.

Associated Press
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