(AP) – The New York Rangers’ playoff position is now precarious, and Marian Gaborik’s continued absence isn’t helping.
Even facing the last-place Ottawa Senators might not provide much relief.
Gaborik is expected to be with the Rangers on Friday night when they visit Ottawa, but whether he will play is uncertain as New York attempts to avoid a fourth consecutive loss.
New York (33-29-4) has seen its grip on a playoff spot loosen during a 4-10-1 stretch. The Rangers are eighth in Eastern Conference with 16 games to play, one point behind seventh-place Carolina but only two ahead of Buffalo in ninth. Toronto lurks one point further back.
Getting Gaborik back soon could help the Rangers solidify their postseason position, but the oft-injured right wing’s status is unclear after missing five games with a concussion. He has 17 goals and 21 assists during a down season, but remains New York’s best scoring option.
The Rangers didn’t appear to miss Gaborik at first, winning the first two games by a 10-3 margin. However, they’ve totaled four goals in three losses since, including a 3-1 defeat to Minnesota on Thursday despite a 41-19 shot advantage.
“We had 40 shots but we’d rather have 20 and four goals,” said defenseman Marc Staal, who returned after missing three games due to a knee injury.
A meeting with conference-worst Ottawa (22-33-9) would appear to be an ideal chance for the Rangers to get untracked before hosting East-leading Philadelphia on Sunday. They’ve won four in a row at Scotiabank Place, including a 5-4 victory Dec. 9 as Gaborik collected two assists.
The Senators, though, have won four of six overall after overcoming a 43-27 shot deficit to beat Atlanta 3-1 on Thursday.
Craig Anderson is a big reason for Ottawa’s surge. Acquired for Brian Elliott from Colorado in a Feb. 18 goaltender swap, Anderson has a 1.16 goals-against average and one shutout while starting each of the last six games.
The veteran netminder had been 13-15-3 with a 3.28 GAA for the Avalanche, but now feels rejuvenated.
“Anytime you get a fresh start, that’s good,” Anderson said. “Not many guys get a restart like this. I look at it as a handout.”
He’s 4-1-1 with a 1.48 GAA and one shutout against the Rangers.
Jason Spezza has five goals and eight assists in 12 career home meetings with New York. The Ottawa center hasn’t had a point in either of his last two games overall after netting two goals and four assists in his previous three.
Brandon Dubinsky, the Rangers’ leader with 43 points, has found the net in each of his last two visits to Ottawa, and has six goals and one assist over the teams’ last seven overall meetings. New York would welcome any production from Dubinsky, who is mired in a personal nine-game goal drought and has no points in his last seven contests.
Updated March 4, 2011
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