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Rangers one of many in playoff fight

by Mike G. Morreale
As of Sunday morning, there were 23 clubs within five points of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth.

The six teams ranked sixth through 10th in the Eastern Conference are separated by just four points and six teams ranked seventh through 12th in the West are separated by one.

Can you dig it?

With a 4-0 win over Columbus on Sunday, the Detroit Red Wings secured a playoff berth for the 18th consecutive season -- the longest active streak in pro sports.

The New York Rangers, meanwhile, are one of those teams fighting for their playoff lives. They sit tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference with the Montreal Canadiens -- one point ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and two ahead of ninth-seeded Florida. The last time the Rangers failed to qualify for the postseason tournament was 2003-04.

The Blueshirts will travel to Montreal to play the Canadiens (80 points) on Tuesday before returning home against the Sabres (76 points) on Saturday. The club will then host Ottawa (66 points) on Sunday.

"For sure, we knew it would be a tight race here and we just have to stay focused on the good things and not panic," Rangers wing Markus Naslund said. "We're pretty confident as a group. We might not have had good outings lately at times, but we're confident. We're going to bounce back and play the way we can."

The Rangers are 5-3-2 over their last 10 games and 5-3-1 since the hiring of coach John Tortorella on Feb. 23.

Rangers captain Chris Drury feels the team just needs to focus on the next period and not necessarily the next game.

"We just need to focus on the first 20 minutes of the next game and not look beyond that," Drury said.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has won 30 games in each of his first four seasons in the League to establish an NHL record, knows it's time to either put up or shut up.

"It doesn't matter how you lose or when you lose, what matters is you didn't get the two points and right now that's what we need and that's what we're gunning for -- the points," Lundqvist said. "It's a tight race now and we definitely are in a serious situation so we're going to do whatever it takes to pull out some games here."

Lucky charms -- The NHL has scheduled 11 games on Tuesday to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, including four nationally televised contests (See 'Tube Time' insert). In celebration of the four leaf clover, here's a preview of four intriguing games no fan should miss.

Chicago at New Jersey -- The media world will congregate at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., to find out if Devils goalie Martin Brodeur will become the NHL's career leader in victories. Brodeur tied Patrick Roy's six-year old standard of 551 wins on Saturday in his hometown of Montreal when he made 22 saves in a 3-1 victory.

The Montreal crowd gave Brodeur a standing ovation when the final siren sounded and another when he was announced as the game's first star and he raised his stick in tribute.

Now, Brodeur gets a chance to set the bar on home ice.

"For me, all the support throughout the years and winning some Stanley Cups at home, having all these experiences for one organization is really special, and it seems like every time I break something I'm always on the road so hopefully on Tuesday I'll be able to break this record in front of you guys and really enjoy you guys again," Brodeur said. "It's been great since I've come back, I think the feedback from everybody in New Jersey has been awesome."

Something that might be forgotten in all the Brodeur hype is the fact the Blackhawks, seeded fourth in the West with 83 points, need victories since the Vancouver Canucks are just two points behind. This is the first of two meetings between the Devils and the Blackhawks this season -- the second is slated March 27 in Chicago.

Philadelphia at Detroit -- Both teams would love to gain a little steam heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and this meeting could go a long way in establishing that. While the Flyers haven't lost more than two straight games since early November, the club hasn't put together a winning streak longer than three straight since mid-February. The Wings are 4-2-1 in their last seven games, but have been outscored over that stretch, 27-23. The Wings are 20th in the League with a 2.91 goals-against average -- they ranked first at the conclusion of the regular season in 2007-08 with a 2.18 GAA. Philadelphia has been led by captain Mike Richards with 27 goals, a career-best plus-25 rating and 71 points -- four shy of his career high. Detroit has been paced by Pavel Datsyuk with 27 goals and 85 points.

Dallas at Vancouver -- The third of four meetings between the clubs is a must for the Stars, who seem to be either in or out of the top eight in the Western Conference daily. The Stars, seeded seventh in the West with 74 points at this moment, own a 76-56-24 lead in the all-time series with the Canucks and are 16-5-2 in their past 23 meetings, including a 2-1 victory on Feb. 13. Dallas center Brendan Morrison, who was claimed off waivers from Anaheim earlier this month, is just three points shy of 500 for his career. The 33-year-old Morrison has played in 742 regular-season games.

"When you are kind of in the moment you don't really think about (the career point total) that much," Morrison told "Maybe when everything is said and done it will be something special to look back on. I would have liked to get there a lot quicker but the last couple years have been a little injury-riddled. Closing in on it, you look back and think about the great teammates and linemates, like the special ones in Vancouver (Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi) I had for a few years. It's a fun thing when you are scoring goals when you are supposed to score goals."

San Jose at Phoenix -- The Pacific Division rivals will meet for the fourth time this season with the Sharks holding 2-1-0 lead in the season series. In the last meeting on Jan. 29, Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who is 17-11-4 lifetime against Phoenix, made 24 saves in a 2-0 victory. The Sharks are 43-37-7-6 all-time against Phoenix. Coyotes center Shane Doan leads all current Coyotes in career scoring against San Jose with 16 goals and 39 points in 69 games.

For the record -- It's interesting to note that if Devils goalie Martin Brodeur doesn't establish the League record for career victories on Tuesday against the Blackhawks, he'll get another shot at Carolina on Wednesday before returning home against former coach Jacques Lemaire and the Minnesota Wild on Friday.

Lemaire was hired as the Devils coach during Brodeur's rookie season in New Jersey in 1993-94. He won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL coach of the year in 1994 and a Stanley Cup in New Jersey in '95 with Brodeur as his goalie.

NBC Game of the Week -- The Pennsylvania showdown between the Flyers and the Penguins takes center stage on Sunday in the NBC Game of the Week at Mellon Arena.

The game will be the sixth and final regular-season meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals with the Pens holding a commanding 4-1-0 lead in the season series. If you take into account the five games in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, the Pens are now 8-2-0 against Philadelphia in the last 10 meetings. Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen and center Jeff Carter lead Philadelphia with 7 points apiece against the Pens this season.

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who has 4 goals and 8 points against the Flyers this season, has made a living making life miserable for Philly with 20 goals and 45 points in 25 career games. Evgeni Malkin, 3 goals and 6 points in the season series, has posted 13 goals and 21 points in 20 career games.

Ooo-la-la -- Former New York Rangers forward Ron Duguay signed a one-game contract with the Jersey Rockhoppers of the Eastern Professional Hockey League on Thursday and will return to the ice on March 22 against the Danbury Mad Hatters at Codey Arena in West Orange.

Duguay is joining forces with the EPHL to promote the Madison Square Garden charitable organization, The Garden of Dreams. Duguay, 51, will become the second-oldest player to play in a professional hockey game. In 1997, 69-year-old Gordie Howe played a shift for the Detroit Vipers of the IHL. Tickets can be ordered through the Rockhoppers box office at 973-419-6194.

Air time - The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will again air Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).

NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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