NEW YORK (AP) — With Vinny Prospal potentially back on the ice, the New York Rangers attempt to extend their winning streak over the league-worst New Jersey Devils to five games when the bitter Atlantic Division rivals meet Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
New York (29-20-4) has defeated the Devils (17-30-3), four straight times, including all three meetings in 2010-11 by a combined margin of 9-2. The return of Prospal could help the Rangers extend that run.
Prospal, who turns 36 later this month, is expected to make his season debut after undergoing knee surgery in October. The left wing was second on the team with 20 goals and 58 points last season, including four points in six games against New Jersey.
The Devils could be tougher to beat this time. Although they still own the league’s worst record, they improved to 7-1-1 in their last nine games with a 2-1 victory over Ottawa on Tuesday.
“I think we’re a more consistent team now, playing more of a team game,” said defenseman Andy Greene, who has six assists in his last eight games. “We’re getting the puck deeper and getting better chances. It’s just little things like that. We’re playing a pretty simple system, but it’s working now and we have to keep it going.”
A rejuvenated Martin Brodeur has been a big reason for New Jersey’s recent surge. The NHL’s all-time leader in wins (613) and shutouts (114) is 6-1-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average in his last eight games. He had lost six consecutive decisions over the previous eight contests while compiling a 4.21 GAA, leading coach Jacques Lemaire to claim he was no longer the unquestioned starter.
Brodeur has a 1.99 GAA and a shutout in his last 10 visits to MSG, but just a 2-6-2 record to show for it.
Brian Rolston is another New Jersey veteran enjoying a resurgence. The left wing has 12 of his 17 points on the season in the last nine games.
New York needs to remain undefeated in this season series to avoid a winless three-game homestand.
The Rangers squandered an early two-goal lead Tuesday and ultimately lost 4-3 to Pittsburgh in a seven-round shootout.
“To let in three straight goals wasn’t us,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “We were able to stop it, but, in the end, we couldn’t overcome it.”
Having center Brandon Dubinsky and right wing Ryan Callahan healthy wasn’t enough to get New York untracked. Callahan had missed the previous 19 games with a broken hand, while a broken leg had sidelined Dubinsky for five.The duo returned Tuesday, as Callahan scored a goal and Dubinsky had an assist before both players missed shootout attempts.
Dubinsky, who leads the Rangers with 39 points, has five goals and three assists in the last five meetings with New Jersey.
Callahan has a goal and an assist in each of the Rangers’ last two home games against the Devils.
New York will be without left wing Ruslan Fedotenko for three more weeks after he underwent an appendectomy Wednesday. He’s missed five games with a separated shoulder.
© 2011 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.