Colorado (19-14-5) at New York (21-26-1)

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  • Game info: 8:00 pm EST Thu Jan 30, 2003
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GAME: Colorado Avalanche (19-14-11-5) at New York Rangers (21-26-6-1).

TIME: Thursday, 8 p.m. EST.

Losers of three straight and faced with the prospect of possibly missing the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, the New York Rangers knew something had to change.

Bryan Trottier took the fall.

The Rangers will play their first game without their former coach when the Colorado Avalanche come to Madison Square Garden.

Trottier, in his first NHL head coaching job, was fired Wednesday after just 54 games. The Rangers, with a league-high $70 million payroll, have been battered by injuries and were not responding to his defense-first philosophy, sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the rival Islanders for the eighth and final playoff spot.

“After the last three games we made the decision that the team is sliding in the wrong way,” Rangers general manager Glen Sather said during a conference call. “I just felt that I had to do something and had to do it quickly if we were going to salvage the season.”

The Rangers planned to announce a new coach on Thursday, before playing the Avalanche. Rangers assistants Jim Schoenfeld and Terry O’Reilly were considered likely candidates.

Two of the Rangers’ recent losses were to the last-place Atlanta Thrashers. New York lost to Atlanta by three goals for the second time in four days Tuesday, 5-2 at Philips Arena.

Dany Heatley continued to cripple the Rangers’ playoff chances, scoring twice to give him five goals in the two contests. New York lost the first meeting with the Thrashers 7-4 on Nov. 28.

The Avalanche’s preseason goal of winning an unprecedented ninth straight division title has been reduced to a longshot. Now, just making the playoffs is their priority.

Colorado is unbeaten in four straight and has lost just once in its last six (3-1-2), a stretch the team badly needed after a three-game losing streak that included home defeats to Calgary and Anaheim.

Few of the Avalanche could have expected needing a desperate, late-season push for points after the team made winning another division crown the centerpiece of its regular season. The “Pursuing History” theme adorns the front of the club’s media guide, but the Avs are 10 points back and would have to pass three teams to become the first NHL club to accomplish the feat.

Instead, the Avalanche are trying to hold onto the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth, with Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix close behind.

Colorado blew a two-goal lead in the second period against Columbus on Tuesday night, settling for a 2-2 tie.

It was the Blue Jackets’ first point in 11 games against the Avs.

Patrick Roy came in with a two-game shutout streak that began with Thursday’s 5-0 victory at Columbus. Roy had not given up a goal in more than 192 minutes.

“I thought we slept a little bit in the second period,” Roy said. “We got away from the way we always play in our own end. We weren’t sharp in our own end like we were in the previous game.”

STANDINGS: Avalanche - 54 points, 4th place, 10 PB, Northwest Division. Rangers - 49 points, 5th place, 18 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Milan Hejduk, 25 goals and 54 points; Peter Forsberg, 37 assists; Derek Morris, 52 PIM. Rangers - Petr Nedved, 18 goals; Tom Poti, 31 assists and 39 points; Matthew Barnaby, 114 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 28): Avalanche - Power play: 17.7 percent (42 for 237), 12th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.3 percent (175 for 218), 27th. Rangers - Power play: 16.0 percent (36 for 225), 18th. Penalty killing: 81.1 percent (223 for 275), 24th.

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Roy (15-11-11, 2 SO, 2.42 GAA); David Aebischer (4-8-0, 1, 2.29). Rangers - Dunham (11-18-4, 2, 2.75); Dan Blackburn (7-11-3, 1, 3.29).

2001-02 SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 1-0-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 3, 2002; Avalanche 3-2, OT. At Denver, Aebischer started in place of a flu-ridden Roy and carried a shutout into the third period. Rob Blake scored 1:41 into the extra period.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 11-5-4-3 on the road; Rangers - 11-14-3-0 at home.

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