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'Fourth Line' Proving it is First Rate

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

With the addition of Alexei Kovalev to the lineup and the return of Pavel Bure to the offensive mix on February 17 in Ottawa, Glen Sather was forced to jostle his forward line combinations a bit. For a team that has been as banged up as the Rangers have been in recent months, healthy bodies generally lead to offensive depth. For the Blueshirts, the recent combination of Mark Messier, Sandy McCarthy and Dan LaCouture has provided energy, spark and even a little bit of offense.

"I think we're playing well," said McCarthy, who has recorded a goal and 11 of his 54 shots in the last four games. "We're just going out, working hard and trying to take things to the net."

Messier, who collected the game-winner and an assist last Wednesday in Minnesota, likes what he has seen from his recent linemates and knows that the trio needs to continue to create offensive chances while maintaining a strong defensive conscience.

"They're playing awesome," said the captain. "They're really giving us exactly what we need with the way our team is set up right now. They're strong on the forecheck, they're taking the body, they're bringing some energy to the team."

"I definitely want to get them involved, play to their strengths. Depending on the situation and where we're with the puck, I want to get it to them in places where they can get to it and use their bodies. If not, I get it to where they can lick in on somebody on the forecheck. When I play with them, I play to their strengths."

LaCouture has played well since arriving from Pittsburgh on February 10 and has fit in perfectly in many situations, most notably on the penalty kill.

"I'm just looking to go out there and play hard and create a lot of energy," the feisty winger said. "Whether it's scoring a goal or getting into a fight, I'm just trying to help contribute and help the club win."

While Messier continues to log minutes at even strength, on the power play and the penalty kill, McCarthy and LaCouture have been rewarded with an increase in ice time, allowing the Rangers to roll four lines in recent games.

"You always gain more confidence when the coach puts confidence in you," noted McCarthy. " We just have to keep plugging away and working hard out there on every shift."
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