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Rangers, Wild Battle For Playoff Position

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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(AP) – The New York Rangers are trying to create some breathing room in the tightening Eastern Conference playoff race. The Minnesota Wild are getting desperate to make up ground in the West.

Only one of these struggling clubs will improve its chances Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers (33-28-4) are seventh in the East, but just one point ahead of eighth-place Carolina and three in front of Buffalo in ninth. They lost 3-2 to the Sabres on Tuesday, falling to 4-9-1 in its last 14 games and 2-5-1 at home in that span.

“It’s a bit of a missed opportunity,” center Brandon Dubinsky said. “We had a chance to go seven up on them. Now it’s only three. We’ve got to stay out of the box and keep fighting, trying to find a way to score.”

The Wild haven’t fared much better, going 3-5-1 over their last nine contests after falling 4-1 at the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Minnesota is two points out of playoff position in the tightly packed West race, which includes eight teams vying for five spots.

“We haven’t been good the last couple of games,” center Kyle Brodziak said Wednesday. “We definitely need more desperation. We’re fighting for our playoff lives here. It’s frustrating. It was a must-win and we didn’t get the job done. It makes (Thursday) that much bigger. We’ve got to stop the slide now and do whatever it takes to turn it around.”

Brodziak could play a part in that. He may have failed to get a point against the Islanders, but he’s been a surprising offensive force over the last 17 games. He’s accumulated 16 points over that stretch, giving him 29 overall – two shy of his career high set last season.

Brodziak’s 13 goals are one off his personal best achieved with Edmonton in 2007-08.

Martin Havlat, Minnesota’s leader with 20 goals and 54 points, is also doing his part. The right wing has four goals and three assists over the last seven games.

Havlat has five goals and five assists in his past 11 meetings with the Rangers, finding the net in a 5-2 home loss Nov. 20.

Dubinsky scored for New York in that meeting, as the Rangers improved to 8-4-0 in the all-time series. They’ve won four of five matchups at MSG, including a 2-1 victory there most recently March 24, 2009.

Dubinsky, though, is trying to shake out of a funk. He leads the team with 43 points and his 19 goals are second, but he has no goals in eight games and zero points in six. Dubinsky also hasn’t had a goal in his last nine home games.

He may have some luck if Niklas Backstrom starts again. Backstrom has dropped two of three to the Rangers with a 3.04 goals-against average, and he’s coming off a sluggish performance Wednesday when he was pulled 41 seconds into the second period after allowing three goals on 19 shots.

“It’s behind us now,” said Backstrom, who has a 4.41 GAA during a personal three-game slide. “We have to worry about (Thursday). I’ll try to be better (Thursday).”

Updated March 3, 2011
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