Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 3/13/12

It was crucial that the New York Rangers get a hard-fought win against the Islanders this past Sunday at Madison Square Garden to put an end to their losing streak. It will be even more important that they find a way to take down the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, as the Sidney Crosby-led Pens will be entering MSG with the desire to inch closer to the first place spot in the Eastern Conference. So, essentially, tonight's tilt with the Carolina Hurricanes is a "sandwich" game, but can be key for the Blueshirts moving forward. 

The Rangers' confidence took a major hit after three straight regulation losses last week, but they rebounded in a overtime thriller against a rival in the Islanders over the weekend. Their goal now is to obviously make up for the points that they lost by building up a winning streak beginning tonight. In addition to that, New York will want to enter Thursday's match-up against the Pens coming off a win and not a loss. They are going to need their confidence and swagger in that one. 

Carolina, on the other hand, is nine points back of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and their postseason hopes are slipping. According to NHL.com, the Canes would likely have to finish the season 11-1-1 in order to sneak into the eighth place spot, and no matter what roster is taking the ice, an 11-1-1 record is very unrealistic. Still, though, they cannot give up hope and will continue to push tonight. 

The Hurricanes were shutout by the Florida Panthers, 2-0, on Sunday, so they are quickly running out of time to get the job done. They must now scrap up any points they can manage to get their hands on, especially with the bottom of the playoff picture looking uncertain at the moment. At this stage of a wide-open season, you simply cannot judge just how far a few points can take you. That's the approach the Hurricanes must finish out the season with. 

In my opinion, from a Rangers standpoint, the Hurricanes are one of those teams that should be defeated. The 13th place Canes should not be a threat to this Ranger squad, which still holds first in the East by four points. As I've pointed out in the past, the Blueshirts will want to maintain first place for the sake of first round match-ups in the playoffs. They do not want to fall into the fourth seed in the East. They need the easiest path to the finals - if they have what it takes to make it there - as possible. 

The Rangers are 3-0-0 against the Hurricanes this season. 

Ryan Callahan (bruised foot) and Michael Del Zotto (hip) look like they will both be out of the lineup once again tonight. That means we should expect to see the same lineup take the ice as we saw Sunday against the Islanders, including Henrik Lundqvist in net. 

Speaking of Hank, he's looked off as of late. His rebound control isn't there and clearly his focus is not where it needs to be. Let's hope that reverses itself in this game, because he's the last player the Rangers need slumping right now. 

Also, keep an eye on Brad Richards. He picked up two goals and an assist on Sunday, and now has 10 points in his last nine games. 

New York Rangers Lineup

* Reports are that Rangers forward Sean Avery will be officially announcing his retirement when his contract expires at the end of this season. He supposedly threw his skates in the Hudson. 

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