Rangers-Wild Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 26, 2012
The New York Rangers have spent much of the season leading the Eastern Conference, but their grip on the top seed has become tenuous. Three more games against opponents outside playoff position may provide a vital chance to cushion their advantage. The Rangers look to maintain their first-place status when they face the Minnesota Wild for the only time this season Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center. New York's lead - as large as 10 points earlier this month - has been whittled to one by red-hot Pittsburgh. Each team has seven games to play in the regular season, including a meeting in Pittsburgh on April 5. The Penguins open a home-and-home set against the last-place New York Islanders on Tuesday. "I don't want to talk about the Penguins. I'm tired of talking about them," captain Ryan Callahan said. "It's about us now." The Rangers (47-21-7) are two points behind St. Louis, which hosts Nashville, in the race for the Presidents' Trophy, while having a game in hand. With their next three games coming against foes in the bottom half of the standings, they may be in strong position to overtake the Blues. After visiting Minnesota (31-34-10), New York concludes this three-game trip Wednesday at Winnipeg before hosting Montreal two days later. They started this trek with Saturday's 4-3 shootout win against Toronto, another team likely to miss the playoffs. "A big reason for us getting where we're at right now is because I think we've played really good as a team," coach John Tortorella said. "That's a very important ingredient to try to win as a team. "I'm very confident in the group. It's not that complicated how we play. I'm very confident in the leadership group and the team itself that we'll be ready to play." Tortorella's confidence may be aided by some scoring punch from Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. Richards assisted on both of Gaborik's goals against the Maple Leafs, and has six of his own while adding 11 assists in his last 13 games. The center has been impressive against the Wild, getting seven goals and 14 assists in 17 career meetings while with Tampa Bay and Dallas. Gaborik is in familiar territory, as he spent his first eight NHL seasons in Minnesota and is the franchise's all-time leader with 219 goals and 437 points. The All-Star right wing had an assist in his only previous game against the Wild, helping the Rangers to a 5-2 win in St. Paul on Nov. 20, 2010. A concussion forced Gaborik to miss a 3-1 home defeat to Minnesota on March 3, 2011. The Wild are mathematically eliminated from the playoff chase after getting shut out five times during a 3-9-1 stretch. They were blanked again Sunday, losing 3-0 at Washington after falling 3-1 in Buffalo a day earlier. "There's no doubt that we're not quite there," coach Mike Yeo said. "I think we all know that." Dany Heatley, the team leader with 21 goals and 47 points, has found the net once in 11 games. The right wing has been held without a point in three of his past four meetings with the Rangers, and was a minus-2 in a 3-2 shootout loss with San Jose last season.
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