An ideal way for the New York Rangers to build some momentum heading into a matchup with the hottest team in the Eastern Conference would be to continue their recent success over the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Rangers look to sweep the season series and defeat the Hurricanes for a fifth consecutive time Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
With 93 points, New York (43-18-7) still leads the Atlantic Division and the conference. However, the hard-charging Pittsburgh Penguins have won nine in a row to move within four points of the Rangers. Those teams meet Thursday at MSG, but first the Rangers must focus on Carolina following a 4-3 overtime win over the rival Islanders on Sunday.
"I am not sure (what that victory will lead to)," coach John Tortorella told the Rangers' official website. "We are trying to go about out business and stay within ourselves. We just try to continue to get better. We can't get too caught up in thinking. We just have to play."
That's why it is important that the Rangers don't get caught looking past Carolina (26-28-15) to the matchup with Pittsburgh. New York has outscored the Hurricanes 13-6 while winning all three meetings this season, including a 5-1 victory at MSG on Nov. 11.
Gaborik has two goals and two assists in his last two games against the Hurricanes, while Richards has a goal and two assists versus Carolina this season.
Richards, whose first goal Sunday gave him 20 for the ninth time in his 11-year career, has three goals in his last two games - equaling his total from his previous 27 contests.
"The production sometimes doesn't come, but I just feel better seeing the ice,'' Richards said. "It gets your confidence up.''
Both of Richards' goals Sunday came on the power play, where the Rangers went 3 of 6 after going 3 for 35 with the man advantage over their previous 12 games.
"The thing I like most about it is the way we won,'' Tortorella said. "The things that we're going through as a team, to keep a hold of ourselves and stay with it."
The Rangers may once again need to win with captain Ryan Callahan (bruised foot) and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (hip) out of the lineup.
Carolina is looking to bounce back from Sunday's 2-0 loss at Florida. It marked the first shutout defeat for the Hurricanes since Nov. 18, when they fell 1-0 to Buffalo.
"The guys played hard," said Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, whose team had earned at least one point in its previous four games. "I thought we emptied the tank and gave it everything we had.''
Cam Ward stopped 31 shots for Carolina on Sunday, but he has a 3.99 goals-against average during the Hurricanes' four-game skid against the Rangers.
Jeff Skinner has five goals and two assists in seven career games versus New York, but he's been held without a point in his last two at MSG.
- Brad Richards