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New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals

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GAME: New York Rangers (25-35-7-6) at Washington Capitals (21-42-8-2).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals can sympathize with each other.

Two of the league's most disappointing teams will continue to play out the schedule when they meet at the MCI Center.

Although the Rangers and Capitals had rosters loaded with offensive stars this season, neither was able to make a legitimate run at a playoff spot. In an effort to slash payroll and begin a rebuilding process, both clubs dealt away most of their high-priced players before the trade deadline earlier this month.

New York acquired Jaromir Jagr from Washington on Jan. 23 in the hope it could earn its first postseason berth since 1996-97. Jagr has 11 goals and 23 points in 23 games with New York, but the team is 7-16-0-2 since the deal and will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

The Rangers traded veterans Brian Leetch, Alex Kovalev, Martin Rucinsky, Greg de Vries, Vladimir Malakhov, Matthew Barnaby and Chris Simon before the deadline for prospects and draft picks.

Washington's roster has also been completely revamped, with Steve Konowalchuk, Jagr, Robert Lang, Peter Bondra, Michael Nylander and Sergei Gonchar getting traded since the start of the season.

Rookie Josef Balej - acquired from Montreal in the Kovalev deal - scored his first NHL goal in the Rangers' 3-1 loss to visiting New Jersey on Monday.

"Obviously it's a great feeling," Balej said. "I've been dreaming about this my whole life."

The loss dropped New York to 2-6-0-2 in its last 10.

Washington's losing streak reached five - one shy of its season high - with a 4-1 defeat at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Rookie Alexander Semin scored for the Capitals, losers of eight of nine.

"We're in a rebuilding stage, and let's face facts: It's not going to be an easy year or two years," Washington defenseman Brendan Witt said. "It's a little tough right now because no one likes to lose. I've never experienced anything like this in my whole hockey life."

Goalie Olaf Kolzig - one of the few veterans that wasn't dealt by the Capitals - has allowed 14 goals during a personal three-game losing streak.

STANDINGS: Rangers - 63 points, 4th place, 31 PB, Atlantic Division. Capitals - 52 points, 5th place, 43 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 27 goals, 41 assists and 68 points; Dale Purinton, 113 PIM. Capitals - Jeff Halpern, 13 goals, 20 assists and 33 points; Darcy Verot, 106 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 16): Rangers - Power play: 14.5 percent (42 for 289), 26th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.3 percent (281 for 350), 28th. Capitals - Power play: 18.9 percent (57 for 302), 6th. Penalty killing: 81.1 percent (279 for 344), 26th.

GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Mike Dunham (16-26-6, 2 SO, 2.96 GAA); Jamie McLennan (12-10-3, 4, 2.23). Capitals - Kolzig (18-33-7, 2, 2.89); Maxime Ouellet (2-3-1, 1, 3.12).

SEASON SERIES: 1-1.

LAST MEETING: March 5; Rangers, 3-2. At New York, Bobby Holik's power-play goal midway through the third period snapped a tie, and Jason LaBarbera made 19 saves for his first NHL victory.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 12-17-4-2 on the road; Capitals - 11-20-5-1 at home.


Associated Press
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