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Kenny Albert: Playoff Intensity Must Prevail

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

by Kenny Albert

Which Ranger team will show up for the crucial three-game road trip this week? The hard-hitting, high-flying group which beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-5, on Saturday afternoon; or the club which lost the two home games (by a combined 8-3) surrounding the Flyers contest?

With just 19 games remaining in the regular season, the Rangers find themselves in a dogfight for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Nine points separate the seventh-place New Jersey Devils (66 points) and the 12th-place Buffalo Sabres (57 points), with the Canadiens (63), Rangers (63), Capitals (60) and Penguins (58) in between. Conference games take on an even larger meaning, and the Rangers will play Pittsburgh and Montreal in back-to-back games this Saturday afternoon and Monday evening.

With a .500 record after three-quarters of the season, the Blueshirts need Mike Richter to regain his Olympic form. In his three starts since returning from Salt Lake City, Richter allowed 13 goals, including five apiece in back-to-back games against the Flyers and Flames. Simon Gagne and Jarome Iginla, who just one week prior were key members of gold-medal winning Team Canada, lit up the Rangers for the first hat tricks of their respective NHL careers. (Interestingly, the last time the Rangers allowed hat tricks in consecutive games: Dec. 1990. Both players {Phil Bourque and Theoren Fleury} went on to play for the Rangers later in their careers.)

Brian Leetch and Vladimir Malakhov, both outstanding during the Olympic tournament, must play at a world-class level over the next month and a half. Leetch (-4) and Malakhov (-3) were on the ice for all three of Iginla's goals on Monday.

Michal Grosek has been rock solid in his two games since returning from his exile to the Hartford Wolf Pack. Grosek wreaked havoc throughout the first period against the Flyers on Saturday, drawing two penalties taken by goalie Roman Cechmanek. He assisted on the Rangers' second goal and led the team with six hits. Monday, again playing on the left side with Eric Lindros and Mike York, Grosek led the Rangers with six shots on goal and scored his second goal of the season with New York. Grosek averaged close to 30 minutes per game with the 'Pack, lost 10 pounds and seems to have gained a world of confidence.

Petr Nedved and Radek Dvorak will also be keys for the Rangers down the stretch. After combining for 63 goals last season, the Czechs have scored just 16 goals apiece this season. The Rangers need more offensive production from their second and third line players to take some of the pressure off Lindros, Fleury and York.

Five of the Rangers' seven Olympians played in three single-game elimination, Game 7-type atmosphere games in Salt Lake. Get used to it Eric, Theo, Mike, Brian and Mike. With 19 games remaining in the regular season and the first playoff berth in five seasons within range, every game will have the feel and meaning of the postseason.

Kenny Albert has served as the Rangers' radio play-by-play voice since September 1995.
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