The New York Rangers want to believe they are a playoff team.
Captain Mark Messier knows playing .500 hockey isn’t going to get them there.
New York hopes to move above the break-even mark when it faces the Ottawa Senators at the Corel Centre.
The Rangers, who had lost five of seven, haven’t made the playoffs since the 1996-97 season despite one of the league’s highest payrolls.
“Until we play well and play with a purpose all the time, then we’re going to find ourselves in the position where we’re battling just to stay in the playoff hunt instead of solidly entrenched in playing for positioning in the playoffs,” Messier said.
Mike Dunham stopped 23 shots Thursday, ending his personal three-game losing streak. Dunham has won just two of his last 10 decisions (2-6-2), with both wins coming against the Islanders.
After missing the previous game with back spasms, defenseman Tom Poti returned to the lineup Thursday for the Rangers and scored his fourth goal. Defenseman Boris Mironov is expected to return Saturday after serving a two-game suspension for cross-checking Buffalo’s Adam Mair on Dec. 12.
Ottawa had little trouble with lowly Chicago Thursday, as Marian Hossa had two goals and an assist in a 6-1 victory.
Ray Emery stopped 27 shots in his season debut and just his second NHL start.
“I felt pretty good and as the game went on, I got more confident. I was seeing all the shots,” Emery said. “The guys were breaking out and they did a lot of good things.”
Although they are fourth in the Northeast Division, the Senators have played better of late, winning five of their last eight (5-2-1).
Patrick Lalime is expected to start in net Saturday for Ottawa. Lalime had his worst game of the season in a 6-2 loss to the Rangers on Nov. 23, allowing six goals on 22 shots before he was pulled in the third period.
STANDINGS (through Dec. 18): Rangers - 31 points, 3rd place, 14 PB, Atlantic Division. Senators - 34 points, 4th place, 10 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Messier, 11 goals; Alex Kovalev, 19 assists and 24 points; Chris Simon, 131 PIM. Senators - Hossa and Daniel Alfredsson, 13 goals; Hossa, 20 assists and 33 points; Chris Neil, 70 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 18): Rangers - Power play: 15.3 percent (18 for 118), 16th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.9 percent (126 for 152), 22nd. Senators - Power play: 22.9 percent (32 for 140), 3rd. Penalty killing: 87.0 percent (120 for 138), 2nd.
SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 23; Rangers, 6-2. At New York, Martin Rucinsky had a goal and three assists and Kovalev added a goal and two assists, as the Rangers ended a four-game losing streak to the Senators.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 5-7-3-0 on the road; Senators - 7-7-2-2 at home.