The New York Rangers are trying to create some breathing room in the cluttered Eastern Conference playoff race.
A meeting with the spiraling Carolina Hurricanes might be just what they need.
While goaltender Henrik Lundqvist claims his hamstring injury isn't an issue, the Rangers look to continue compiling points by beating the Hurricanes for the seventh straight time Saturday night.
The Rangers (18-15-4) are tied with the New York Islanders for the final two playoff positions in the conference, one point ahead of New Jersey and two in front of Winnipeg. Philadelphia and Buffalo are lurking three and four points back, respectively.
New York is 2-0-1 over its last three games after falling 2-1 in a shootout at Pittsburgh on Friday to split a home-and-home set with the East leader.
"I thought we played really well, really well," coach John Tortorella said Friday.
Lundqvist has been impressive while starting each of the last three games, stopping 78 of 82 shots. He had 26 saves through overtime against the Penguins before turning aside two of three attempts in the shootout.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, however, tweaked his hamstring in the tiebreaker, but he expects to be ready to face the Hurricanes (16-18-2).
He has a 1.58 goals-against average while winning his last three games versus Carolina, stopping 29 shots and two more in the shootout of a 2-1 home victory March 18. That's part of the Rangers' six-game winning streak against Carolina, the longest by either team in the all-time series.
New York may also be afforded a chance to rest Lundqvist since backup Martin Biron is 10-0-2 with a 2.38 GAA over his last 12 games versus the Hurricanes. He's also 9-0-0 with one tie and a 2.17 GAA in his last 10 starts in Raleigh.
Rick Nash, who scored his team-leading 14th goal Friday, has three goals and four assists in 10 career meetings with Carolina. He hasn't managed a point in each of the last three but scored in the shootout last month.
The Hurricanes are mired in a woeful 1-9-1 stretch but are tied with Tampa Bay for third in the Southeast Division, four points back of first place.
Carolina has been outscored 42-17 over its last 11 games, and it fell 5-0 to the Lightning at home Thursday despite holding a 45-30 advantage in shots on goal.
"It's a little fragile," coach Kirk Muller said. "We're getting enough scoring chances to win hockey games. We're outshooting teams. It seems like we say that every night, but we make a breakdown and it's in our net. We've just got to find a way to eliminate that."
It's unclear if Muller will put Dan Ellis back in goal since he's 0-4-1 with a 3.50 GAA over his last six games after making 25 saves Thursday. That stretch includes a 35-save effort in the latest meeting with the Rangers, but he was beaten twice in the shootout.
He's 3-1-1 with a 2.14 GAA in five career games against New York.
Justin Peters, who has never faced New York, is 1-5-0 with a 3.24 GAA over his last seven games - five starts.
Eric Staal has one goal and five assists in his last four games versus the Rangers.
The Associated Press News Service
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