Goaltender Craig Anderson is close to playing for the first time since the Ottawa Senators last hosted the New York Rangers, but there may be no rush the way Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner have performed.
One of those two will be in net Thursday night when the Senators go for their first season sweep of the Rangers in a decade.
Anderson, the league leader with a 1.49 goals-against average, recently returned to practice for the first time since spraining his ankle Feb. 21 in the third period of a 3-2 shootout victory over the visiting Rangers.
"It's hard to tell right now (when I'll be back)," Anderson said after Wednesday's practice. "I want to make sure that I'm comfortable and give the team the best opportunity to win the hockey game. Until I get that rhythm back by practicing a few more times it's hard to say."
What is clear is that the Senators haven't lost much, if anything, with Anderson sidelined. Their league-best 2.06 GAA has lifted them to fifth in the Eastern Conference, and they will enter Thursday's game within five points of the Northeast Division lead.
Bishop has won five of seven starts since Anderson got hurt, including his last three, and stopped six of New York's seven shootout attempts in last month's win. Lehner is 3-1-4 with a 2.05 GAA since being called up following Anderson's injury.
Facing the Rangers (16-13-3) for the first time, Lehner made 33 saves to help Ottawa end an 0-2-2 skid with a 3-2 victory in New York on March 8.
That ended a season-best four-game winning streak for the Rangers, who have since won just four times in 10 games.
New York, though, has gone 3-1-1 in its last five to move into eighth in the East, two points in front of the ninth-place New York Islanders. The Rangers opened a three-game trip with Tuesday's 5-2 victory over Philadelphia.
"We're building some momentum," said Rick Nash, who scored two goals - including the 300th of his career - after being reunited on a line with center Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin.
"We don't look at the standings, we just try to worry about ourselves. It sounds so cliche, but that's what we need to do. Just try to get better, build off this, and keep moving up."
That could very well happen if the Rangers - among the league's lowest-scoring teams with 2.34 goals per game - can start finding the back of the net with more regularity. They could use more production from center Brad Richards, who netted his 250th career goal Tuesday but just his fifth this year as the club equaled its highest-scoring game of the season.
"We've had a lot of good games in the past, but we haven't scored a lot," said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose 2.27 goal-support average is among the league's worst. "This is a game where I think a lot of guys felt good about their game and what they did out there. Hopefully we can continue it this week."
New York, though, is facing an Ottawa club that has allowed a league-low 1.59 goals per game at home while going 12-2-3.
The Senators, ousted by the Rangers in the first round of last year's playoffs, haven't posted a sweep of this season series since 2002-03 when they won all four games.
The Associated Press News Service
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