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Rangers visit Coyotes looking to snap four-game slide

by Matt Cubeta
RANGERS (24-23-7) at COYOTES (31-18-5)

Last 10 -- New York 3-6-1; Phoenix 5-4-1

Season series -- This is the second and final meeting between the teams. In their first contest on Oct. 26 at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers defeated the Coyotes 5-2 -- Marian Gaborik and Vaclav Prospal each recorded three points in the win.

Big story --
While the Coyotes continue to float in the middle of the Western Conference playoff pack, the Rangers are fighting to keep their postseason hopes alive. With eight Eastern Conference teams within two points of each other, the Rangers need to snap their four-game slide if they want to stay in the thick of the hunt.

Team scope:

Rangers --
After scoring 14 goals in two wins against the Canadiens and Lightning, the Rangers have lost four straight games, scoring a total of three goals during their skid. Inconsistency has been a problem all season long for the Blueshirts, and if they want to stay in the playoff picture they'll have to turn things around, starting with this three-game road trip out West.

The latest team to solve the Rangers was the Carolina Hurricanes, who handed New York a brutal 5-1 loss at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. While the Rangers did outshoot the Hurricanes 38-24, Ryan Callahan was the only player to find the back of the net.

"I didn't think we played that bad of a game," Callahan said. "If you break it down, I thought we battled hard and we had a lot of time in their zone. Right now we need that extra bounce and go from there."

Coyotes --
The Coyotes are playing courageous hockey right now. On Tuesday, in one of the NHL’s most exciting finishes of the season, the Coyotes rallied from down two goals in the final 90 seconds against the Red Wings and eventually went on to win in overtime.

Then on Thursday night the 'Yotes showed resilience after blowing a 2-0 second-period lead by rallying to defeat the Flames in a shootout -- Robert Lang and Lauri Korpikoski each scored to send Phoenix home with the win. The Coyotes are 4-0-1 in their last five home games and are right in the thick of the playoff race with 67 points.

"It was a big win," goalie Ilya Bryzgalov said. "There's not many games left, every point is so important, every game counts, every play counts now, and if you want to be in the playoff race, you've got to win, continue to battle hard."

Who's hot --
While Callahan scored the Rangers' lone goal on Wednesday, center Artem Anisimov scored both New York goals in Monday's 4-2 loss to the Penguins, his first goals since Dec. 19. … Coyotes captain Shane Doan has really stepped up his play lately with 4 goals and 7 assists in his previous six games. Blueliner Keith Yandle has 3 goals in his past two games while Matthew Lombardi has a goal and 5 assists in his last five.

Injury report --
Despite their recent struggles, the Rangers are currently completely healthy. … Coyotes leading goal scorer Scottie Upshall left Thursday night's game against the Flames with an apparent right knee injury -- it's uncertain whether he will play against New York. Defenseman Kurt Sauer has missed almost all of the season with a head injury.

Stat pack -- If the Rangers are going to have any chance at winning this game, they'll have to get out to quick start in Phoenix. The Coyotes are 24-2-2 this season when scoring first and 15-0-1 in the past 16 games when they grab a 1-0 lead.

Smart hockey and puck possession will also prove vital in this matchup. Neither team turns the puck over very often; the Coyotes are first in the NHL with just 278 giveaways on the season, while the Rangers are fourth best with 306.
Puck drop --
The Rangers will certainly welcome a change of scenery after dropping two consecutive games on home ice.

"We just have to stay together," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "The best thing for us now is to just get out of town."

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