Carolina (42-14-4) at New York (36-16-8)

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  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Mon Mar 6, 2006
  • TV: FSS, MSG
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With second-leading goal scorer Erik Cole out for at least the rest of the regular season with a fractured vertebra, the Carolina Hurricanes will try to make up for his absence as they take on the New York Rangers in a matchup of first-place teams.

Cole suffered the injury when he was driven headfirst into the boards by Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik on Saturday night. Cole, who has 30 goals and 30 assists to tie for second on the Hurricanes with 60 points, could return when the playoffs begin in mid-April.

Cole had scored two goals for the second night in a row before he was rammed into the dasher boards from behind by Orpik with 14:42 remaining. Cole appeared to lose his footing just before Orpik hit him.

“I understand playing hard, but you don’t run guys from behind—ever,” Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour said. “I mean I have played 100 years and I’ve never run a guy from behind. That’s one of the best players in the league, Erik Cole, and we need him. (The Penguins) aren’t really playing for anything. It’s frustrating.”

Cole was released from Pittsburgh’s UPMC Presbyterian Hospital Sunday morning before returning to Raleigh, N.C., for an examination by team orthopedic physician Douglas Martini.

The Hurricanes recalled Andrew Ladd from Lowell of the AHL to replace the 27-year-old Cole, who has reached the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career. The fourth-year forward’s 60 points are a career high, and he has four goals and two assists since the Olympic break to help Carolina go 3-0.

The 20-year-old Ladd, the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft by the Hurricanes, has six goals and two assists in 17 games with Carolina this season.

The injury to Cole came in the opener of a stretch in which Carolina plays nine of its next 10 on the road. The Hurricanes are looking to win five in a row for the first time since Jan. 23-31.

The Rangers had their seven-game winning streak snapped Saturday in a 2-1 loss at New Jersey, missing a chance to win eight in a row for the first time in 31 years.

Martin Rucinsky scored for the Rangers to extend his point streak to seven games, but NHL goal leader Jaromir Jagr did not have a point for the first time in six contests.

The Rangers scored only once for the first time since a Jan. 24 home loss to Buffalo. They outscored opponents 31-12 during the seven consecutive victories.

New York, though, will get a boost from the return of goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is 4-0 in his last five games with a 1.99 goals-against average. Lundqvist, who helped lead Sweden to the gold medal at the Turin Olympics, sat out the Rangers’ last game before the break and both since the team’s schedule resumed. He’ll replace Kevin Weekes, who allowed just three goals in the last two contests.

The Rangers have won their last three home games and eight of their previous 10 at Madison Square Garden. New York had won six in a row on the road.

The Rangers beat the Hurricanes 4-3 at MSG in the teams’ last meeting Nov. 19, ending a three-game skid against Carolina. All three losses had come on the road.

The Rangers, who have not made the playoffs since the 1996-97 season, might play Monday without defenseman Marek Malik, who left in the first period with a right shoulder injury Saturday.

“The games are getting tougher and tougher,” Rangers defenseman Darius Kasparaitis said. “We have to respond. We’ve played well all season and now people expect us to win.”

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