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NBA outing helped Rangers' third line find chemistry

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- With the New York Rangers running four lines for much of the past month, it seems like a different trio has provided a key goal every game. But during their current three-game winning streak, it's been impossible to miss the team's third line of Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot.

The line has combined for 10 points in the past three games, including two game-tying and two game-winning goals. It's an impressive run for a line that has managed to develop great chemistry on the ice as well as off.

"I think everyone just works hard," Zuccarello said after the team's practice Tuesday. "We're all capable of doing everything, working hard, taking the body, backcheck, forecheck. I think we just read off each other really well. We have four good lines, so there's not a lot of pressure. There's pressure on every line, but it's not like we have more pressure than the other ones. That's a strength to our team lately."

The versatility of the third line, which also plays together on the Rangers' second power-play unit, could be key Tuesday when they face the streaking Colorado Avalanche, who come into Madison Square Garden having won four in a row and nine of their past 11.

New York's productive third line came together curiously, as none of the three started last season with the Rangers. Brassard was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL Trade Deadline last season while Pouliot signed with New York during the summer, making the Rangers his fifth team in five seasons. Zuccarello started last season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League before joining the Rangers near the tail end of the season.

With three players from such disparate backgrounds, one would think it would be difficult for the trio to find such strong chemistry. But a night watching the New York Knicks' 102-92 win against the defending champion Miami Heat on Jan. 9 helped them develop a strong rapport.

An NBA fan, Pouliot arranged for the group outing that saw six Rangers, including him and his two linemates, watch the basketball game. It came the night after the Rangers' 3-2 victory against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, the win that sparked the team's current 9-3-0 run.

"Benny is a big basketball guy and I wanted to go see LeBron [James]. So did [Zuccarello], just to see a good game. I sat beside Benny and we're pretty much always together. It's been really good," Brassard said. "We had a lot of fun. If you have a good relationship off the ice it's going to help a lot on the ice. We're really good friends and we just try to do well all together."

Henrik Lundqvist will start in net for the Rangers for the fifth straight game. The Colorado Avalanche did not skate Tuesday but likely will counter with Semyon Varlamov after backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere started in their 2-1 overtime victory against the New Jersey Devils on Monday. Paul Stastny and Alex Tanguay both missed Colorado's win in New Jersey with injuries and there is no indication either will be back against the Rangers.

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal missed practice to attend the birth of his daughter but will play in the game.

Here are the projected lineups for the Avalanche and Rangers:


Jamie McGinn - Matt Duchene - Ryan O'Reilly

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - PA Parenteau

Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Maxime Talbot

Patrick Bordeleau - Marc-Andre Cliche

Erik Johnson - Jan Hejda

Nate Guenin - Andre Benoit

Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie

Ryan Wilson

Semyon Varlamov

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Injured: Paul Stastny (ankle), Alex Tanguay (groin), Cory Sarich (back)


Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan

Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello

Daniel Carcillo - Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Anton Stralman

John Moore - Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Cam Talbot

Scratched: Justin Falk

Injured: Derek Dorsett (broken fibula)

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