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Rangers can't afford to take Maple Leafs lightly

by Dave Lozo
RANGERS (33-32-9) at MAPLE LEAFS (27-35-12)

Last 10 -- New York 4-5-1; Toronto 7-3-0

Season series --
This is the third of four meetings. The Rangers took the first two, but the last game between the teams took place Oct. 17.

Big story -- Just when you think the Rangers are out, they pull themselves back in. A dominant performance against the Islanders and a come-from-behind win in New Jersey have pushed the Rangers to within three points of the eighth-place Boston Bruins. But don't sleep on the Leafs, who have won 4 of 5 despite having the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Not that teams ever lose on purpose, but without a first-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, the Leafs have no incentive to lay down over their final eight games.

Team Scope:

Rangers -- Trailing 3-2 to the Atlantic-leading Devils on the road with less than 30 seconds to play, it looked like the Rangers were sinking deeper into the quicksand that has been their season. But Chris Drury tied it with 17 seconds remaining, and the Rangers emerged with a shootout win that was a pure season-saver.
But even after they turned zero points into two points, they've still got a big hill to climb. And Rangers coach John Tortorella knows it.
"There's no sense of feeling pressure now," he said. "If we lose games with so little left, you're done. We've talked as a group. Lots of people poked holes in us and rightfully so. We've had an up-and-down season but we've stayed within ourselves and have kept fighting."

Maple Leafs -- This is a team that embodies the term "playing for pride." They have a better chance of seeing a unicorn than a postseason berth, but it hasn't stopped them from putting forth a strong effort since the Olympic break.
In a road game against the Atlanta Thrashers, a team in the thick of the playoff race, the Leafs fought their way to a 2-1 overtime win Thursday. So don't expect the Leafs to do the Rangers any favors.

"We've been finding ways to win hockey games," said defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who was a Calgary Flame the last time Toronto faced New York. "We don't care if takes 60 minutes or 65, and that's a good sign. We know we can be better, but with saying that every game is not going to be a perfect one. We'll take the two points."
Who's hot --
Rangers rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto has 2 goals and 3 assists in his last three games. … Leafs sniper Phil Kessel has 7 goals in his last 7 games, and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who will start Saturday, has won six straight.

Injury report --
The Rangers may be without winger Ryan Callahan, who aggravated a leg injury against the Devils on Thursday. He will likely be a game-time decision. … Defensemen Mike Van Ryn and Mike Komisarek are out for the season and haven't been big factors this season in Toronto.

Stat pack --
Four of the Rangers' last six opponents are currently out of playoff position. … Kessel has been limited to 1 goal and 2 assists in 11 games against Rangers.

Puck drop --
"We responded well. We didn't panic, we didn't give up." -- Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, after the Rangers' 4-3 shootout win against the Devils on Thursday.

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