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New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals @NHLdotcom
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GAME: New York Rangers (26-40-7-8) at Washington Capitals (23-45-10-2).

TIME: Saturday, 3 p.m. EST.

Essentially, the New York Rangers' season concluded weeks ago.

They'll see yet another disappointing season officially end when they take on the Washington Capitals.

Because the Rangers were not in a position to make the playoffs despite the league's highest payroll, a trading deadline sell-off stripped the team of most veterans - including Brian Leetch, who was dealt to Toronto after 17 seasons. Numerous deals made before the March 9 trade deadline jettisoned most of their marquee players and helped New York stockpile young players and draft picks.

Rangers owner James Dolan and general manager Glen Sather decided that in the best interest of the franchise, the Rangers had to trade off their assets and build for the future. That meant abandoning a desperate run for the playoffs - and a seventh straight spring with no NHL playoff games at Madison Square Garden.

"It was too much of a risk," Dolan said. "We were better off taking advantage of the trade deadline and using this time to make a change in the strategy. I believe that was the right decision."

Without a realistic chance to win a championship in New York and with his good friend Leetch gone, Mark Messier is leaning toward retirement.

Messier left the ice at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night and was showered with applause and cheers from teammates, family, friends, fans and even the Buffalo Sabres. The 4-3 loss was certainly the last game the Rangers captain will play this season, and possibly the final one of his 25-year NHL career.

If this is the end, and the 43-year-old Messier was noncommittal Wednesday night, then he will retire as the NHL's second-leading scorer with 1,887 points - trailing only Wayne Gretzky.

Washington also cut ties with several high-priced players before the trading deadline, but its season doesn't end until Sunday at Pittsburgh. The Capitals unloaded eight well-paid veterans this season.

Olaf Kolzig, one of the few veterans not traded, made 35 saves for Washington in a 3-3 tie with the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.

The Capitals had lost seven consecutive road games. Washington has the most losses in the NHL this season, but remains unbeaten (20-0-3) when leading after two periods.

"Every game has an impact on something," Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. "I told the guys, 'You never know when you'll need a favor from somebody else."'

STANDINGS (through April 1): Rangers - 67 points, 4th place, 33 PB, Atlantic Division. Capitals - 58 points, 5th place, 48 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jaromir Jagr, 31 goals, 43 assists and 74 points; Dale Purinton, 117 PIM. Capitals - Jeff Halpern, 17 goals, 25 assists and 42 points; Darcy Verot, 135 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through April 1): Rangers - Power play: 13.9 percent (44 for 317), 27th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.2 percent (304 for 384), 29th. Capitals - Power play: 19.5 percent (64 for 329), 6th. Penalty killing: 81.3 percent (318 for 391), 26th.

GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Mike Dunham (16-30-6, 2 SO, 3.03 GAA); Jamie McLennan (12-12-3, 4, 2.32). Capitals - Kolzig (19-34-9, 2, 2.89); Sebastien Charpentier (0-6-0, 3.41).

SEASON SERIES: Capitals, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: March 18; Capitals 4-3, OT. At Washington, Kip Miller scored a power-play goal 1:18 into overtime for the Capitals.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 13-19-4-4 on the road; Capitals - 13-20-6-1 at home.

Associated Press
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